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.

Why I'm optimistic about school funding reform after COAG's 'no deal'

School funding reform was the big ticket item at the most recent Council of Australian Government's (COAG) meeting, held 19 April. The state and territory leaders failed to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Gillard on her National Plan for School Improvement, itself a response to the landmark Gonski Review of School Funding. As I argue in this piece for The Conversation, far from constituting failure, but opens up the opportunity for deeper, bilateral negotiations and flexible agreements with each state, with additional time for getting the details right. You can also read my piece for The Drum, published the morning of the COAG meeting, on why agreement on this was unlikely (Hint: the offer from the Commonwealth contained big question marks). Finally, if you missed me on ABC News24 discussing the COAG meeting as it was underway, you can catch it here. Ditto joining Radio National's 'Outsiders' Segment on Sunday Extra. It has been a real privilege to join the national conversation on such critical reforms and share my research on the institutions and processes underpinning them.

UPDATE: On 23 April NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell announced it had reached 'an historic agreement' with the Gillard Commonwealth government on reforms to school funding, which would occur in partnership. Some of my early thoughts can be read in this Conversation article, alongside eminent education policymakers Carmen Lawrence and Jim McMorrow. I also spoke at length with ABC 774 Melbourne and SYN FM radio about the prospects of agreements with the remaining states and territories.  Additional analysis found in podcast links on my publications page.

 

Intergovernmental relation on television

The Council of Australian Governments met on July 25th to discuss the establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme and education reform. I had pleasure of chatting to news program hosts about likelihood of intergovernmental reform on these contentious and costly proposals on both ABC  News24 and SkyNews. You can watch a clip from my ABC television interview here.

UPDATE: On September 2nd I spoke on ABC News24 about the Gillard Government's response to the Gonski Review. In short, the prime minister is caught between a rock and a hard place.