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It's time to put your hand up: Our kids deserve the best possible education

This post is sponsored by I Give a Gonski

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.

This post is sponsored by I Give a Gonski

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.

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The States have shown reluctance to embrace the Gonski reforms, worried that the Federal Government is intruding into a traditional area of State responsibility. The Queensland Minister for Education told a conference of school principals in February that the Federal Government should “give up on Gonski” and “butt out of education”. The WA Premier, Colin Barnett, has said that WA isn’t going to “sit back and suddenly let the Commonwealth take over the running of our schools.” The Victorian Government announced it would go its own way on reforms to school funding (although the new Premier is flagging a new openness on this issue) and NSW maintains it supports the Gonski reforms in principle, although it and other States are calling for greater detail about what their funding share will be.

The upshot? In Gonski, we have a powerful road-map for how to substantially improve education outcomes in this country, but all of this argy-bargy and political posturing is putting it at risk.

Frankly, Australian kids should be able to expect more than this churlish time-wasting.

They should be able to expect that regardless of how wealthy their parents are or where they go to school, they will get an education that they can be proud of.

They should be able to expect that their government is doing everything that it can to make sure that schools in this country are the best that they can be.

And kids in this country should be able to expect that every Australian citizen is prepared to demand change so that they can achieve their dreams.

This year, when someone asks you whether you Give a Gonski, they are asking you whether you think that every child should have access to the best possible education, regardless of where they live, how much their parents earn and the school they attend. They are asking whether you think that kids should be able to expect more from their education, their government and their future.

Well, do you?

This post is Sponsored by I Give a Gonski

Set up by the Federal Government in 2010, the Gonski Review was the most comprehensive review of the way schools are funded in  Australia in almost 40 years.  It was conducted by an expert panel headed by senior businessman David Gonski.  The final report was released in February 2012.  The review examined the adequacy of the way schools are funded and what was required to ensure Australia has a school system which is among the best in the world for quality and equity.  It’s recommendations give us a once in a generation opportunity to ensure all students are receiving a high quality education. With just a few weeks  to go until politicians are due to make a decision on schools funding, it’s a critical time for the Gonski campaign. We’re about to take it up a notch, with a national Gonski Week of Action. Show your support at the I Give A Gonski website

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Do you think the funding of Australia’s education system needs to change?

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