By AMY STOCKWELL
Today, in this country, not every child can expect the same standard of education.
Students living in disadvantaged areas are up to three years behind kids of the same age who live in wealthy areas. By their third year of school, almost 90 per cent of children from the poorest Australian homes are below-average readers. Only half of kids with a disability are expected to complete their schooling. One in seven 15 year olds do not have basic reading skills. And every year, 40,000 kids are dropping out of school without going on to work or training.
How is this possible? In a country that over the past decade has benefited from a financial boom and largely avoided the global bust, why are so many kids ending up with so little?
And why does it not boil the blood of every Australian adult that the once clever country is a cruel country for so many kids?
In February 2012, the Review of Funding for Schooling chaired by David Gonski (the Gonski Review) found that Australia is investing far too little in schools and too many students are missing out on the resources they need – and the education they deserve.
The Gonski Review recommended an urgent shift to a funding system that better meets the needs of students. The new funding formula proposed by Gonski is quite straightforward. Schools should be funded on a per student basis, plus extra money to take into account factors like socio-economic background, whether the student lives somewhere remote, is indigenous or living with a disability.
It’s a simple idea: more money per student for education. And more help for those who need it.
Based on this formula, Gonski recommended $5 billion should be injected into public and private schools every year.
What bang do you get for this buck? Smaller class sizes, more specialist teachers in literacy and numeracy, greater support for students with higher needs and additional classroom support for teachers. In short, close to an extra $500,000 for an average school every year.
Where does the money come from? At the moment, the majority of funding for government schools comes from the state governments (some state government money also goes to private schools). The majority of Federal Government funding goes directly to private schools.
Gonski proposes a rebalancing of this funding, with one third of all funds to come from the Federal Government. How the remaining two thirds is covered needs to be discussed and negotiated with the States.
Unsurprisingly, it is in this political space where things have come unstuck.
As it stands, the Federal Government supports the reforms proposed by the Gonski Review and has committed to finding the money to pay their increased share of school funding – but where that money will come from has not yet turned up in the Federal Budget.
The Federal Opposition has rejected the Gonski reforms as too expensive, claiming the current education funding arrangements are working well and should be extended.