FUNDING for state education is set to become a political battlefield again ahead of this year’s federal election.
The Labor state government fired the latest salvo in the fight last week by releasing state education department statistics showing Victorian public schools will lose out on $1.1 billion in 2018 and 2019 unless the federal Coalition government agrees to fund the final two years of the Gonski plan.
The department’s analysis listed each individual state school’s funding shortfall if the Gonski funding, officially known as the Better Schools program, is not forthcoming.
Dunkley electorate schools – in the Frankston, Mornington and Carrum areas – look likely to miss out on $18.3 million in funding according to the state department figures.
Federal Labor candidate for Dunkley Peta Murphy said Labor will honour the Gonski six-year school funding plan if elected.
“I regularly visit our local schools and speak with our principals. They tell me that targeted, needs-based funding is making a real difference,” she said.
“The Turnbull cuts to Gonski funding is a broken promise. It will affect every child in every school, and those who need it most will be hit the hardest.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, when in opposition, declared the Liberal Party was “on a unity ticket” with Labor over Gonski funding before the 2013 federal election and promised to pitch in federal funding for the first four years of the six-year program jointly funded by the federal government and the states.
The Labor state government is trying to pressure the Turnbull government to declare its public schools funding intentions before the federal election.
“This is funding that pays for things like extra support teachers in the classroom and special reading programs for kids falling behind,” Labor Frankston MP Paul Edbrooke said in a statement last week.
“Malcolm Turnbull’s so-called Ideas Boom will go completely bust if he keeps cutting funds from our schools, our kids and our future.”
On a Facebook post last Thursday (10 March) Mr Edbrooke was even more scathing in his criticism of a Liberal “walk away from the final two years of Gonski”.
Mr Edbrooke noted Liberal candidate for Dunkley Chris Crewther says he hopes to encourage Dunkley youths to seek a tertiary education so there is “a brain gain instead of a brain drain” in the community.
“How do we get kids into tertiary courses when you are gutting their schools?” Mr Edbrooke asked on his official Facebook page.
“I won’t have you move to Frankston only months ago and pee on Frankston’s leg and tell us it’s raining when we are working so hard to ensure our kids get the best education we can provide.”
Mr Crewther said Mr Edbrooke is entitled to his views but was surprised at the Facebook comments.
“As a State Member who is supposed to be encouraging people to move to this area, I am surprised at these disparaging remarks towards me,” Mr Crewther said.
“Like Paul, who was raised in the Latrobe Valley and moved here as an adult, I chose this area as my home in Frankston to raise my young family, as the region combines the best of the country where I spent much of my youth, the city where my wife Grace grew up and the coast, with fantastic schools, healthcare, arts and amenities, with a very welcoming community. Most locals who have made this area their home would agree.
“Paul in his comments over Facebook seems to be confusing two issues, one being the need for investment in expanded local tertiary, higher education and TAFE facilities and courses, versus the need to also invest in our primary and secondary schools. Both are equally important.”
Federal Liberal Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the federal government provides funding to the states and territories to use their own funding models to distribute money to specific schools.
“School funding will continue to increase from the current record levels with the federal government’s commitment to Victorian schools increasing by $993.7 million or 27 per cent from 2014-15 to 2018-19,” Mr Birmingham said.
“It is disingenuous of Victoria to throw too many stones in the Gonski glasshouse when they themselves are yet to commit to the $806 million additional funding required under the final two years of their agreement with the former government and given they provide less funding per student to their schools than all other states and territories.
“Will Victorian Labor commit to funding their schools from their own budget like Western Australia does or will they continue to deflect the scrutiny and attention?”
Federal Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten promised to fully fund the final two years of the Gonski schools funding totalling $4.5 billion nationwide.
Mr Birmingham has previously indicated the Turnbull government plans to negotiate a new funding deal with the states and wants to focus on “the highest quality outcomes”.
“Unlike the Labor Party, we won’t be tricked into thinking that just spending more money automatically improves results,” he said in January.