Initial thoughts on the early details of the federal Coalition's school funding package

This morning the federal Coalition government is announcing a big, needs-based school funding package as part of the upcoming budget and its election campaign. (I foreshadowed the possibility of such a package last week).   More details are expected from federal education minister Simon Birmingham later today, and more again from the Treasurer on Tuesday night when the federal budget is handed-down. Here are some initial thoughts on the early details of this Student Achievement Plan.

So far, we’ve been told that it contains a $1.2 billion increase in school funding, allocated using a needs-based formula, spread over 2018, 2019 and 2020, as part of a $73.6 billion school package. The paltry 2.5 indexation rate for school funding introduced by Abbott will be replaced by a 3.56% “real education costs” indexation rate.

This first figure is just a nudge shy of the $1.1 billion education spending pledged by the Victorian government on Wednesday as part of its 2016-2017 state budget.  Needless to say the Victorian government has much less revenue at its disposal than the federal government, which collects most of the tax in the country. So I find this increase underwhelming. (Read my thoughts on the Victorian budget here.)

The $73.6 billion is a different story, and I’m wondering what it contains. Figures released by the Productivity Commission in February put the combined total of state and federal spending on schools at $50.42 billion, and put the federal contribution at $14 billion. Even accounting for the fact that these PC figures are from 2013-2014 (most recent year from which comparable data was available), the discrepancy is still striking.  I’m definitely waiting for the details on this.  

Minister Birmingham has emphasized that this funding will be distributed on a needs-basis using tied grants, with conditions that prevent the states from lowering their own school funding or potentially even varying the allocations, as well as implementing a raft of other "reform" measures.

It is certainly true that Australia needs to better target resources to where needs are greatest – the current mismatch is a major contributor to the widening gaps in schooling outcomes and overall lackluster performance. But as I found in my PhD research, tied grants both in Australia and in other federations are notoriously ineffective, and adding lots of conditions often has perverse or damaging outcomes compared to untied funding for the same purpose.

Similar conclusions were reached by the Gonski Review,  which recommended that states retain responsibility for allocating funding to schools (dispersing the funding from the Commonwealth to their schools using their own needs-based formulas). This is because the states have superior expertise, experience and capacity when it comes to dispersing funding and developing programs. Gonski also stressed that transparency was needed to assess state allocations. Unfortunately, for most states this has not occurred, which greatly limits accountability and limits the ability of policy makers in different systems around the country to learn from each other.

Finally, this Student Achievement Package confirms that the federal Coalition would continue to fund – and develop programs and accountability provisions for - public (government) and private (nongovernment schools), rather than retreat from public schools, a proposal made by the prime minister to the state premiers at the Council of Australian Government meeting in March. 

I said at the time that such proposal was a terrible idea but highly unlikely. Last year, I also foreshadowed continuation of more-or-less current arrangements (where both levels of government continue to fund and develop policies for public and private schools) as the most likely (though not most desirable) of the four reform options outlined by Reform of the Federation White Paper Process, which has been quietly cancelled. The White Paper would have set out a plan and program to enhance the functioning of Australian federalism, especially in the most problematic areas such as education, and was originally due late last year.  

UPDATE 12:30PM

It has emerged that some of the federal government's requirements under the new funding arrangements are:

  • "standardised Year 1 school assessment of students’ reading, phonics and numeracy skills to ensure the earliest possible interventions occur for students who need additional help",
  • minimum standards for students to pass Year 12, including changes to subject requirements
  • changes to staff remuneration (competency and achievement against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers rather than length of service) and "Incentivise high-performing teachers to work in disadvantaged schools" (NB many state governments already do this)
  • "have minimum proportions of trainee teachers specialise in literacy and numeracy"
  • "Use explicit literacy and numeracy instruction in all schools"

The rationale behind some of these is sound. For example, evidence indicates the importance of a strong grasp of literacy and numeracy by age eight as a foundation for successful later learning, and learning interventions are better earlier than later. However, I haven't seen evidence on the standardised testing as an appropriate mechanism at this age for this purpose.  I'm not an expert in early years literacy and numeracy, so cannot speak to the appropriateness of explicit instruction as a pedagogical strategy, but as a federalism expert that has examined schooling policies in Australia and abroad, I am not confident the federal government has the capacity to implement or enforce these or other "requirements" given it neither runs schools nor employs teachers.  Indeed, such measures could further blur responsibilities in the already contested and opaque schooling sphere. 

While I am in favour of national standardised testing as one of many data sets or indicators to inform decision making by families, school leaders and policy makers (it is better than relying on Year 12 results, guess work, word-of-mouth and reputations), it is evident that a disproportionate emphasis on testing is harmful. I've repeatedly argued these test results need to be put in perspective and not conflated or over-emphasised. Australia's NAPLAN program is simply a snapshot in time of a few subject areas and skills, in a way that allows for national comparison and change over time comparisons.

Here's what Bob Randall, the Chief Executive of ACARA who administers and analyses NAPLAN, has said about it:

"We believe that the best way to develop literacy and numeracy is through the delivery of a broad rich curriculum. Literacy and numeracy are used and developed when students are taught science, English, the Arts, mathematics, and all the other learning areas that make up a rich, well-rounded curriculum. A narrowing of the curriculum to focus on test preparation will not improve NAPLAN results."

Connecting test results to school funding, and potentially to teacher remuneration, could provoke some schools and teachers to focus on test preparation (rather than the vital skills in literacy and numeracy they seek to measure) and could come the expense of other important subject areas that aren't tested, and vital skills and capabilities children need to succeed. This could be counter-productive and have perverse effects on student achievement, engagement and well-being. 

It is also unclear what would happen if a school serving a disproportionately disadvantaged community receives extra needs-based funding but student test scores fail to improve within the designated time period. Change can take time, improvements may be in other areas (such as wellbeing) and sometimes extra challenges or issues beyond a schools powers may impact on student performance. Do these schools - the neediest in Australia - have to repay the federal government?  How is that supposed to work or help the students most in need? 

The Victorian budget

This week the Victorian government handed down its budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The centrepieces were $1.1 billion in education spending, major new public transport infrastructure and a sizable surplus.  Here are some of the things that stood out for me from the school and early years portfolios.

Highlights:

  • More and better-targeted school funding. This sees the continued implementation of the Victorian government's Education State agenda and a welcome response to the findings of the Bracks Review. Although Victoria has had a needs-based funding model for two decades only 7% of this funding was for equity measures. From July this year, about 30% of students in Victorian public (government) schools will receive equity funding. The higher base amount of general recurrent funding for schools is slightly above indexation and population growth.
  • $924.1 million to build or upgrade school facilities, heralded as the "largest ever single investment in school infrastructure in Victoria". Much of this is to build or expand schools in areas with surging populations - mostly on Melbourne's outskirts - and the rest is to update facilities in the most dilapidated schools across the state, many of whom have been in urgent need for a long time.   I was in two-minds about calling this a major highlight. I consider it a core obligation of government to provide more schools and other essential services as the population increases, and to maintain essential pre-existing infrastructure and facilities. But given the chronic under-investment in this space, and lag between population growth and school building for many years in Victorian and other states, it is pleasing to see the Andrews government make this a major priority.
  • $50 million for a Shared Facilities Fund to build jointly-funded and jointly-managed community assets like sports facilities, performing arts centres and libraries. These are hoped to create "community hubs at major schools in growth corridors and elsewhere across the state" to "enable greater use of school facilities after school hours".
  • Much higher target numbers of principals and assistant principals participating in centrally-funded leadership development courses, to better equip them with the skills they need in their vital roles.  Public schools in Victoria have far greater autonomy than elsewhere in Australia.
  • Doctors in up to 100 of the most disadvantaged secondary schools across the state. This builds upon the highly successful initiative of Bendigo Senior Secondary, a public school regional Victoria.
  • Building more Children’s Hubs, which will be a “one-stop shop for families” offering a range of children and family services under the one roof to increase convenience and access.
  • Respectful relationship training for preschool teachers

The Victorian budget also had a few disappointments for me, including:

  • No funding commensurate with Victoria’s share of the “Gonski” funding.  This follows the federal Coalition government backing out of the six-year agreement forged between their predecessors (Labor prime minister Rudd and Coalition Premier Napthine) in August 2013, under which the Commonwealth would have contributed $6.8 billion and the Victorian government contributed $5.4 billion. However, the higher and better-targeted funding for public schools is still significant and worthy of praise.
  • No sizable increase in Victorian funding for 4 year old preschool (kindergarten), nor any public funding for 3 year old preschool programs (apart from a handful of pre-existing highly-targeted programs for children from vulnerable backgrounds). Research undertaken by my colleagues and I at the Mitchell Institute confirms that investment in high-quality early education programs, such as preschool, in the years before school are one of the highest-impact investments governments can make, benefit to all children, and with especially children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are also least likely to participate currently. We also know that cost and attitudes to the importance of preschool are major barriers to participation. I would have liked to have seen subsidies increase for 4 year old preschool making it free for all families, and subsidies introduced for 3 year old programs. This would have elevated the status of preschool as a vital part of the education system, while simultaneously making it more affordable and accessible. At present, there is a large gap between program costs and government subsidies, which is met by fees and fundraising.

Overall I give the Victorian budget’s education spending a B+  “Great work, more than adequate, but with potential for significant improvement.”

A missmatch between investment and opportunity: early childhood education in Australia

Yesterday my workplace The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University launched our first big report on early childhood education in Australia, which I coauthored with three remarkable colleagues.

Our report pulls together all the research and latest figures about what's working, what's not working, and what Australia needs to do differently in this space to ensure all kids can reach their full potential.

We found that 60,000 children are arriving at school developmentally vulnerable and already behind, that one thousands of children do not attend preschool in the year before school, or do not attend for enough hours that research indicates is required for lasting, positive impact. Worryingly, the kids missing out on high-quality early education are the ones who will benefit most.

While Australia has made significant strides forward on both access and quality measures since the introduction of the National Quality Framework for Early Education and Care in 2012, much more needs to be done to ramp up quality and access, especially in disadvantaged communities. This means greater supported directed to where there are greater needs.

Investment in high quality early education offers the greatest "bang for buck" of all stages of education and must be elevated as a priority for governments and families.  Among our five recommendations for the next five years, we call for 15 hours preschool in the year before full-time school to become a legislated entitlement of every child. Access should not be based on whether or not a child's parents is working, but be a child's right, just like school.

The report, media release, opinion article and two-page fact sheet are all available on the Mitchell Institute's website. I've delighted to say our report is making waves, with articles in The Age, The Australian, the Guardian among others, plus over a dozen separate radio interviews broadcast across the country, including feature in ABC's PM news radio bulletin.

F for fail: analysis of Turnbull's proposal to end Commonwealth support for public schools but continue supporting private schools

On the first of April, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed that the Commonwealth cease supporting public (government) schools but continue supporting private (nongovernment) schools. It wasn't an April Fools joke, but something he wanted to discuss at the Council of Australian Government's meeting that same day, along with fiscal reforms and hospital funding reforms.

This schooling proposal was one of four ideas for schooling federalism reform floated in the Discussion Paper that was part of the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation.

I analysed these four options in a report for the Melbourne School of Government, and concluded that this option be avoided, because it would worsen all existing problems (dwindling equity and excellence, accountability concerns, unproductive overlap and subsidiarity.) It is also of questionable constitutionality.

Here's an excerpt from my report:

Rather than providing clarity and enhancing accountability, it muddies responsibilities, as the states would still be responsible for the regulatory frameworks and other programs for all schools in their jurisdiction, which would include some programmatic funding, such as student welfare initiatives. It also is likely to exacerbate the inequities and inefficiencies (and worsening learning outcomes) created by the two levels of government making policy decisions and funding allocations independently of each other, and pursuing different, competing policy agendas.  This dilutes program effectiveness and efficiency, resulting in wasted resources (time, money and goodwill towards reform). The growing gap in resources between school sectors impacts negatively on the overall performance of Australia’s school system.
The split of funding responsibilities from policy and regulatory responsibilities under Option 2 creates additional problems, as noted by the Taskforce, who cautioned that Option 2 was likely to “introduce perverse incentives for governments to shift costs within the system” and could also “reduce State and Territory governments’ ability to effectively regulate and assist the non-government sector improve its student performance, or ensure a baseline of consistency that allows easy movement for students between school sectors”.

I encourage you to check out the full report, which contains extra analysis on this and other options, as well as important background information on who does what in Australian schooling, reform prospects and why this all matters.

PS I'm currently in Spain, where I'm speaking about Australian federalism and education policies, and learning from other international workshops, at a series of workshops and seminars organised by the Forum of Federations.

The importance of the early years - and the kids we leave behind

Australia's most important information on early childhood development, the 2015 AEDC National Report was released on Tuesday. It reveals that around 60,000 children are developmentally vulnerable in their first year of school.  Evidence shows this early disadvantage affects children's performance throughout their schooling, and beyond.

The Australian Early Development Census measures kids' development in their first year of school across five domains: physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills (school-based), and communication skills and general knowledge

In this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, my Mitchell Institute colleague Megan O'Connell and I unpack the data - what's improving, what's worsening, what's puzzling - and the centrality of high quality, early childhood education and care in unlocking every child's potential.

"The most important discussion of the last 40 years for Australian schools"

Flat or falling results in the national literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, persistent gaps in resources and school completion rates, and worryingly-high student disengagement indicate new approaches are needed in education policy.

Australia's federalism system of government may seem abstract or even irrelevant to efforts to improve student learning and outcomes.  But the messy arrangement of government responsibilities for school funding, policy, program delivery, regulation, evaluation and accountability directly affects every school in the country and limits their capacity to help students achieve their full potential. A smarter alignment of these responsibilities among governments would mean that precious funding and time would be better-targeted to where needs are greatest, reducing the growing gap in resources and outcomes. It would make it easier for schools and school systems to develop, implement and evaluate cohesive programs tailored to the needs of their students, and to collaborate with other schools, with families and with agencies working in health and welfare. Finally, it would make it easier for educators and policy makers around the country to understand their impact and to learn from each other in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Today the Melbourne School of Government launched a new report I prepared for them called Schooling Federalism: Evaluating the Options for Reform.  This report assesses the four reform options proposed by the Prime Minister's Department's federalism taskforce in their leaked Green Paper and Discussion Paper late June.

These four options received scant media attention and analysis. The bulk of the commentary focused on Option 4 and its footnote. Under this Option, the Commonwealth government would have provided all school funding (and potentially charged fees for public school education, which I discuss here) while the states would have done almost everything else including provision of public schools and regulation for all schools. This would have been disastrous for policy effectiveness, efficiency, fairness and accountability. It was also extremely unlikely to be pursued. 

The absence of scrutiny of the other three options was worrying. In this report I measure each of the reform proposals against the six criteria put forward by the federalism taskforce and also consider their political feasibility and desirability.

Option 1 (full state responsibility for education) was the clear winner, but its success is dependent upon the states receiving revenue increase commensurate with increased funding responsibilities. Option 3 (greatly reduced Commonwealth involvement) offers similar potential to improve learning outcomes and equity, although to a lesser degree. Under all four options, ACARA, the national curriculum, NAPLAN and MySchool would be retained, but with the Commonwealth taking a back seat and instead following the states' leadership and supporting their initiatives when in the national interest.

Complementing the online launch of the report was a national radio interview on RN Sunday Extra. Host Jonathan Green and I explored some of the complexities and historical background in what Dale Pearce, Principal of Bendigo Senior Secondary College and Board member of Victoria's Curriculum and Assessment Authority, described as "the most important discussion of the last 40 years for Australian schools."

Of course, what works in one policy domain is not necessarily appropriate for others. For those interested in vocational education and training and the best intergovernmental arrangements for this important area, check out the valuable work of Peter Noonan and other colleagues at the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy.

Leaked school funding proposals. Should we be worried?

The leak of four reform proposals for Australian schooling from a confidential draft of the Green Paper on the Reform of the Federation has triggered panic and confusion across the country. But while the proposals may seem worrying at first glance, they need to be put in context.

In this new piece for The Conversation, I run through each of these draft proposals and explaining that they are not policy announcements but merely the next step in the long, exhaustive White Paper process (which I wrote about here.)  I also detail a worrying fact that seem to have escaped the media, the politicians’ and commentariat’s attention, that  “free” public education hasn’t been free for a long time.

In February this year, the Victorian Auditor General’s Office found “parent payments have become essential to the provision of free instruction in government schools”; “schools are charging parents for items that should be free”; and the Victorian Department of Education, worryingly “has no oversight on what items and how much schools charge parents.”

We need to do away with the myth that public education is free and talk about how government and communities can work together to better support schools and students. Schools have been operating without necessary support for too long. Greater coordination, collaboration and support is urgently required.

UPDATE: Life Matters program on ABC’s Radio National ran a story on these issues two days after the leak (and my article) were published, with myself as one of the guests. Listen here.

The future of school funding in Victoria

What is the future of school funding in Victoria under the new state and Commonwealth governments? Is Gonski dead?

I’m delighted to join the Victorian minister for education James Merlino, Gonski Panelist Ken Boston, school principals and other key stakeholders in speaking at the most significant forum on school funding in years.

It’s organised by the Need to Succeed (NTS) coalition, a broad-based group of fairer-funding supporters that promotes transparent, sector-blind and needs-based school funding models. They believe these models better support students experiencing disadvantage and they work with key education stakeholders to advocate for their implementation.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click .

Update on the symposium here.

 

What does the education issue paper tell us about potential intergovernmental reforms?

"Released two days before Christmas, you could be forgiven for missing the issues paper on government roles and responsibilities in education that is part of the process in developing the federalism white paper. This is a pity. Because if you wanted insights into the Commonwealth government’s attitude to federalism in education and potential directions this could take, it’s a good place to start."

Click here to read the full article.

Frontiers and opportunities in Australian education

My latest publication, a chapter on schooling policy in the newest edition of Social Policy in Australia: Understanding for Action has just been released.

It looks at issues and opportunities in education policy.

As the chapter argues, education is the bedrock of a successful society. It benefits individuals, communities and the nation. Relative to other developed nations, Australia's education system is relatively high performing but with sub par equity. Decades of reforms and increased spending by state and Commonwealth have had minimal impact reducing this inequality or improving excellence.

Contributing to these challenges is the uneasy relationship between choice and equity - competing principles that have been ever present in education policy in Australia. The book can be bought on Oxford University Press' website and from university bookstores. To whet your appetite, you can read an edited extract discussing the choice and equity aspect on MI Brief, the Mitchell Institute's blog.

Policy innovation and leadership from below

We talk a lot about the importance of innovation in education - as we should.  We talk less about how to foster, sustain and share successful innovations that enhance student learning and engagement. This is a pity. In this recent expert comment article for The Conversation, I discuss the astonishingly blunt and honest comments of Victoria's education chief, outlining why the states rather than the Commonwealth government should drive education policy. It was encouraging to hear a very senior bureaucrat, who has worked at both state and federal levels, concur with my PhD findings on the opportunities our federal system of government offers for innovative and best-practice policy-making, tailored to the needs of their residents.  Could this be the dawn of a new era in education federalism in Australia?

I also spoke recently on Radio National's Drive program on the controversial "IBM school" in Brooklyn, New York. I argue that such innovations, when developed carefully to meet the needs of students at a particular school, can work wonders. Dismissing them as "US-style corporate schools" is a missed opportunity to learn how new models of schooling can improve excellence and equity here in Australia.

New approaches to persistent problems in Australia's schools. (And a new position!)

I’m excited to formally announce that I’ve joined the Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy as a Policy Fellow.

The Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy is an independent think tank that works with researchers, governments, analysts and communities to improve the connection between evidence-based social research and public policy reform.

The Institute will put emergent policy issues at the heart of its research agenda and promote sustainable policy change that addresses some of Australia’s most challenging health and education issues.

Our first publication ‘New approaches to persistent problems in Australia’s schools’ outlines four bold propositions policymakers could pursue to enable and accelerate system-wide improvements to learning and equity.

Does NAPLAN need an overhaul?

Since 2008, Australia has had a national assessment program for literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN), providing objective, nationally-comparative 'point in time' data to governments, schools, parents and the public on how students and schools are tracking on these essential learning foundations.

It replaced standardised literacy and numeracy tests at the state level that had been in place for almost 20 years but were difficult to compare and were not available to the public or external researchers.

NAPLAN is not an authoritative, holistic assessment of the capacity or quality of a student, teacher or school. Nor is it a high stakes test - students are not penalised for poor performance and NAPLAN results do not effect the remuneration of individual teachers.

NAPLAN is a diagnostic tool to assist school leaders and policy makers deciding how to allocate resources and tailor programs and strategies to maximise learning for their students. It also provides objective "snapshot" data to parents and teachers on how individual students are tracking, and an extra piece of information - objective data - to assist them deciding which school to send their kids, rather than relying solely on visits, advertising materials, at times sensationalist media and hearsay.

While NAPLAN's objectives are very worthy, misconceptions over the test and an over-emphasis on it by a small minority of parents and schools has raised serious concerns.  I joined Senator Penny Wright on ABC television's News Breakfast program on 28 March to discuss the Senate Inquiry into these concerns. Here's the segment and the report.  I also discussed whether MySchool be abolished on ABC's Radio National on March 7.

Is it goodbye to the "Gonski" reforms?

UPDATE: As I predicted a week ago, "Gonski" is not gone. The Abbott government announced today (2 December) that  it would maintain the Gonski reforms - including the new needs-based funding model - and would honour the funding agreements Rudd and Gillard had made (well, for the first four years at least, with Victoria among others vowing it would continue to fight and negotiate to see the full six years - and full funding amount - covered). It also announced "in principle" agreements with the governments of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, stating that they would also be funded according to the Gonski model, although with fewer conditions attached. Depending on the details - which are yet to emerge - this could be a closer reflection of the Review's recommendations that the Commonwealth pay greater respect to the states' responsibility and expertise in schooling policy.

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Australia's new federal education minister Christopher Pyne has caused a storm with his announcement that he would seek to undo the Gillard-Rudd government's National Plan for School Improvement (aka "Gonski" reforms). This would include rewriting the funding agreements his predecessors forged with the governments of NSW, South Australia, the ACT, Victoria, Tasmania, and the Catholic and independent school sectors. This is much easier said than done, and thus a most unlikely outcome. For more information on the legal and political barriers facing Pyne, you can read my analysis piece in Crikey, listen to my national radio interviews with the ABC's PM program and the Wire, or catch me on the ABC's current affairs television program The Drum

I'll be discussing the future of the "Gonski" reforms on Radio National's Sunday Extra on December 1 and on Life Matters on Tuesday December 3. Podcasts will soon be available on program websites and my media page.

PS. The Final Report of the Gonski Review of School Funding been removed from the federal education department's websites due to Machinery of Government changes (departmental restructuring), but you can access a copy right here. Enjoy!

Are independent public schools are good idea? Marking the federal Coalition's education policy.

A quick expert comment piece I wrote for the Election Watch website, putting the Coalition's long-anticipated education policy - including the controversial Independent Public School proposal - under the microscope.

If you'd like to know more about Independent Public Schools you can listen to my interview on the topic on Radio National's Life Matters program where I'm joined by the author of a report into Western Australia's initiative.  I also strongly recommend the latest book by Brian Caldwell, an academic guru on the subject and former Dean of the University of Melbourne's Education Faculty. (Disclaimer: I just discovered that he devoted two pages to discussing and endorsing my research on Victoria's 'self managing school' reforms and the influence of federalism.) A lovely compliment. Mine is the only study of these reforms from an intergovernmental perspective and you can read it here

Interested in ideas and Australian politics?

If so, you might be interested in my latest publication, a chapter in this just-released book Turning Left or Right: Values in Modern Politics. The book

"...breaks through the wall of sound bites and explores how century-old political philosophies connect to practical policy for the 21st Century.

Each chapter includes three essays from some of Australia’s most engaged political thinkers who explore contemporary policy issues, find the dividing lines and reinject values and ideas. Importantly, every author’s essay provides insight into the solutions they think are needed to make Australia a better country for future generations."

My chapter is on the role and benefit of multiculturalism, and I am joined on this topic (in a separate contribution) by former foreign minister Alexander Downer.

You can purchase a copy here. Delivery is free within Australia. Would make a marvelous Christmas present ;-)

School chaplaincy program returns to the High Court. This is good and unsurprising

This week we learnt that Ron Williams, the parent from Queensland who objected to federal government funding for school chaplaincy programs at his kids' school and other public schools, is returning to the High Court. He is challenging the Financial Framework Legislative Amendment that the federal government brazenly rushed through (in just a hours with support of all political parties) in response to the High Court's judgment on this matter last year. In a victory for federalism, the High Court had vehemently rebuked the federal government for exceeding its executive powers under the Constitution and for its unwarranted intrusion into state domains. This verdict put into question not only the chaplaincy program, but hundreds of other federal spending programs as well and was a major driver of the recently dumped "local government" referendum to extend Commonwealth spending powers.

As I argued last year in a paper (pp. 4-5) to the Australian Political Studies Association Conference, it was only a matter of time before this legislation was taken to the High Court, and if the Pape verdict and previous Williams verdict are anything to go by, it will most likely be struck down as unconstitutional. If this occurs, the federal government will be chastised and forced to reformulate the Chaplaincy program, among others, as tied grants with the states.

School autonomy - sorting myth from fact

More autonomy for schools is an education policy being championed by both Labor and the Coalition in the lead-up to the federal election. But does it result in a better education system?

In an extended election piece for The Age, education editor Jewel Topsfield takes a look at increased school autonomy. In doing so, she draws on an analytical piece I wrote on independent public schools published on Election Watch, in which I reassured folks on twitter that the Coalition is not planning to privatise public schools but rather grant them extra autonomy. I also explain that increased school autonomy, while controversial, has been on reform agenda since the Whitlam government days and all states have introduced elements of it to varying degrees. Topsfield's piece also refers to the Grattan Institute's recent and excellent report The myth of markets in school education. Interestingly, a fact she cites from this report - that the Kennett government devolved 93 per cent of Victoria's school education budget to individual public schools (on page 25 if you're interested) contains a footnote linking to my earlier research on these 'Schools of the Future' reforms and their ongoing relevance! (NB Once you click this link on Election Watch you'll need to scroll down a page or so to read my material education policies.)