Interview with Rachael Brown, ABC AM Program: school funding

  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

ELIZABETH JACKSON: The Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, denies public schools will bear the brunt of any future funding cuts.

And he told Rachael Brown he hasn't broken an election promise.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Next year, every state gets what they would have got whether they signed the agreement with Labor or not, before the election. So we've gone further than Labor would have.

RACHAEL BROWN: But Labor's plan went a lot further; there doesn't seem to be any certainty for schools post-2014

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, Labor's promise was to remove $1.2 billion of the $2.8 billion of funding that was planned over the forward estimates. Bill Shorten left me a complete shambles: Victoria and Tasmania hadn't really signed up; the Catholics hadn't really signed up; the model itself is quite incomprehensible. My job is to fix that, and I intend to do it. But more importantly we need to focus on teacher quality, a robust curriculum, principal autonomy and parental engagement, because funding is only one element of school outcomes.

RACHAEL BROWN: It's a very important part though. No other country in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) funds independent schools as favourably as Australia does - I think around 45 per cent of their income comes from taxpayer subsidies; so do you not need to readdress this balance, start spending more on the disadvantaged than the advantaged?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I'm not proposing to throw open the school funding model that we've had in this country since 1963 if that's your suggestion. What you're ignoring, unfortunately, is the fact that the state and territory governments fund 90 per cent of the costs of state and territory schools. The Commonwealth will not be in the business of taking over the funding responsibilities of state and territory schools, nor do we expect the states and territories to take over the funding responsibilities of the non-government sector.

In the last 10 years, I can tell you Rachael, that we've spent 44 per cent more on schools, and that is the 10 years in which our results have declined. So funding does not indicate better results.

RACHAEL BROWN: Not necessarily the amount of funding, but better targeted: the Gonski report recommended a base payment for each child topped up with loadings according to their backgrounds. Do you see that as a bad idea?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No of course not. We believe that there needs to be a needs-based funding system; that any new school funding model needs to be fair for all states and territories, equitable between students. That's not the case at the moment with this current funding model. It's not a national model. Every state and territory is different, every one has different indexation rates, every one has different percentages of the student resource standard they have to reach, and none of these, none of these things have been proven to have an outcome for students' results.

RACHAEL BROWN: When I spoke to Dr Ken Boston he said that, assuming enrolment stays the same to 2016/2017, the government sector will get an extra 6 per cent in funding while the non-government sector will get an extra 30 per cent. I know you said the public schools are the responsibility of the states, but how can you expect state governments to be in a position to find an additional 30 per cent for public schools?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Rachael, the state and territory governments are responsible for their schools. They own and operate them. I don't believe that the Commonwealth government should take over responsibility for state and territory schools, and we're not going to do that. But it's certainly true about two thirds of students are educated in the government sector and they get more than two-thirds of the funding - the total funding.

You can't treat the funding in isolation, you have to put it together. And if you have a per student breakdown, independent schools have the most funding attracted to them, government schools have got the second-highest level of spending per student. And Catholic schools come third with the lowest rate of spending per student, but Catholic students are getting better results than the public system, so money again is not the answer to every problem in education.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, speaking there to our reporter Rachael Brown.

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