When 91% Is Not A Pass Mark

From Trevallyn Primary School and Riverside High School to Launceston College and the University of Tasmania, exemplary public schools and exemplary educators provided the foundation for my future.

As I was growing up, a private school education was not an option in our household, and for that, I am truly grateful.

The only time I really thought about private schools was when we played them at soccer or cricket. Or, at Launceston College where I made friends with students from the private system who attended our classes.

As migrants, my parents realised the most important gift they could give my brother and I was to engender us to do well at school and to provide a level of accountability if we did not.

My family lived by the mantra: “to waste a day at school was to waste an opportunity”.

It was not easy. Unequipped with traditional academic prowess, I had to find a way.

In some ways I was lucky. I could talk and occasionally impress on sporting fields. However, it was not until educators taught me the art of writing that I unlocked my pathway to success.

Quickly I learned education is the foundation on which other opportunities can grow.

It is because of my public education journey I am a proud husband, father, teacher, coach, and columnist for this newspaper.

Yet I am careful not to rewrite history or romanticise about my younger years at school, because I understand not everyone had the same positive experience that shaped my adulthood.

There is no silver bullet that can remedy the education and learning challenges we as a community face, for they are as much cultural as they are historical.

But we can, and must, ensure all Tasmanian students are given the best possible opportunities to learn and grow.

At the moment our political leaders are failing Tasmanian public school students by underfunding government schools.

We know our public schools are chronically underfunded because a 2011 independent review, led by Mr David Gonski AC, determined this fact.

Recommendations from that review helped develop the Schooling Resource Standard – an estimate of how much total public funding a school needs to meet its students’ educational needs.

In Tasmania, our public schools will not reach 100 per cent of the SRS under the bilateral agreement signed by state and federal Liberal governments until 2027.

Every independent and Catholic school across Tasmania is already at that standard.

More than 70 per cent of Tasmanian students attend public schools, yet these schools attract 10 per cent less funding than their private counterparts.

Can you even begin to imagine if private hospitals received 10 per cent more funding year on year than the public system?

The Commonwealth funding contribution is capped at 20 per cent and the Tasmanian government has only offered 75 per cent, but that includes a 4 per cent capital depreciation, meaning Tasmania only receives around 91 per cent funding.

To break it down, every Tasmanian school is missing out on $630,000 every year.

Imagine what schools and colleges could do with that extra money.

Without this Liberal party funding shortfall, we could have 1409 additional teachers employed in our public schools – that is seven-and-a-half teachers on average for every school.

And where could they be employed? Well – student retention to year 12 does not begin in year 10, so significant investment in early years education, budget-after-budget, must be the pathway forward, without wavering, without failure.

Our teachers are working at capacity to address ever-growing classroom needs. AEU member surveys tell us teachers spend, on average, more than $500 per year out of their own pockets on their students.

Our tireless educators work year-round for the betterment of our students’ development. They should be thanked every day, however, last Thursday marked our teachers’ national day of celebration.

Public Education Day is a time to recognise the central role public schools, preschools and TAFEs play in growing the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our society.

Respecting educators is crucial. Building the value of the profession is paramount. Violent families or those who fail to speak civilly to school staff or who fail to accept that there are two sides to every story should be as uncommon as hens’ teeth. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Fight for your kids, but do not fight those desperate to make a difference – our educators. We cannot afford to wait any longer – the state government must make up the shortfall in the upcoming budget and pay back the nine per cent funding that is missing from every public school and every public school child across Tasmania.

I learned at a young age prioritising education created the foundations for other opportunities to grow – when will our governments?