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.

Binning the local government referendum was a good idea

The announcement of a September 7 federal election means the referendum on local government financing cannot proceed on the same day. I argue (along with most federalism and constitutional scholars) that this is a good thing.

The proposed constitutional change was dressed up as a harmless update and feel-good recognition of local government. But it was completely unnecessary and posed a hornet’s nest of accountability problems with potentially deleterious affects on local governance, services and infrastructure.

Read more here, in my article published on The University of Melbourne's Election Watch website.

Latest academic papers: flexiblity, stability and innovation in Australian federalism

It's academic conference season and I have two offerings, both co-authored with Professor Brian Galligan. 'Australia’s federal system: Flexibility, change and schooling' was presented in a panel titled ‘Beyond stability: flexibility and innovation in federal systems’ at the International Political Science Association World Congress in Madrid. The second, on which I'm the lead author, will be presented in Hobart at the Australian Political Studies Association's annual conference and is called 'Schooling federalism. Gonski, Williams and reform prospects'. My speaking notes are here. Refereed paper available upon request.