What would Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham have done if this year’s topline NAPLAN results had shown a big leap in student performance?
Would he have said, “OMG! We were wrong, quick fund the full Gonski!”? I very much doubt it. The Federal LNP Government has hated Gonski from the get-go.
Why they should be so sullenly opposed to a fair and reasonable, sector-blind formula that directs funding according to real, evidence-based need is anyone’s guess. They have really only mounted two equally feeble justifications for their opposition.
The first is that Australia can’t afford it (say what — one of the richest countries on the planet can’t afford to invest in the educational opportunities of its poorest kids?). The second is that money doesn’t make any difference anyway.
I guess if this year’s NAPLAN had turned out differently, Birmingham would have used the first argument – ‘Well, that’s nice, but we can’t afford it.’ As it is, he’s used the second – ‘See, we told you, money doesn’t make any difference.’
Here are my responses to both those perspectives.
First, the only reason Gonski costs what it does is because successive governments have decreed that no school can lose a dollar of their public funding – no, not even schools that charge more than $20,000 a year in fees and are already resourced up the wazoo. The morality of arguing that Gonski is too costly because we must keep publicly funding the very wealthiest schools to the tune of millions per annum really doesn’t bear thinking about.
My response to the second is an extension of the first. If money doesn’t make a difference to educational outcomes, why do we therefore insist on giving so much public money to kids who already have extraordinary resources devoted to their education? Do proponents of this view really believe that money only makes a difference to wealthy kids but no difference at all to poor ones?