The area of investment this Federal Budget cannot ignore

If we are serious about giving all Tasmanian students the chance to reach their full potential, change is needed now.

Yet, disappointingly, it seems our federal government is determined to short-change our public schools.

Acting Federal Education Minister Stuart Robert’s recent attack on public school teachers at a private schools’ conference speaks loudest about his government’s failure to prioritise public education.

Instead of taking aim at our hardworking public-school teachers, the federal government should prioritise its education budget more wisely, centred around the educational needs of our students. 

The current Budget structures of over-investment in private schools is not just uneconomical, but harmful to overall educational outcomes.

Real change is needed to deliver urgent funding for public schools in line with the independent Gonksi Review more than a decade ago which pointed out the deeply engrained deficiencies in our education system.

Alarmingly, Tasmanian public schools are not funded to the minimum Schooling Resource Standard – this means they are grossly underfunded, with every school, on average, missing out on $630,000 every single year.

At the same time, most private schools are overfunded, well beyond the standard, with school fees rolling in on top of government funding.

In rural areas across the country 70 per cent of children are educated in public schools and there’s a big concern achievement gaps will widen if these resourcing issues aren’t addressed.

As hard as it is to believe, the Morrison Government contributes nothing to public school infrastructure while providing $1.9 billion for private schools.

At a time when COVID is running rampant throughout our communities, school capital works projects – including the need for better school ventilation – are being ignored.

Tasmanian teachers are facing an impossible grim, and downright unsafe choice – teach a class in a poorly ventilated classroom or teach students outside in sub-par [or non-existent] outdoor learning space.

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened inequities in education at a rapid pace. 

Without adequate investment in public school infrastructure, equipment and staffing, our students will be left behind. 

We are all linked, in some way, to students who attend a public school – for me, they are my children, my former students, my friends’ kids. 

They, and all Tasmanian students, deserve every opportunity to meet their full potential, but the barriers standing in their way must first be torn down.

And they can be.

This Federal Budget presents a giant test for our government to make right its failings of the past and properly fund our schools, so all students can achieve successful outcomes. 

Increased investment in public schools will create meaningful educational and economic benefits for us all.

It’s clear the Federal Budget will be followed with an election, and one that will present an opportunity for taxpayers to elect a Government that has a fair vision for public schools and prioritises quality education for all students.

It is an opportunity to restore the vision for fair funding for every school and every child outlined in the Gonski review.

Change is needed. 

Widespread under-resourcing in our schools has meant teachers are coping with inadequate educational materials at schools that are under-staffed and bear poor quality infrastructure – these factors impact on, and negate student learning.

We should all be alarmed.

Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions and the time for change is now.

It’s true Tasmania is in the grips of a chronic teacher shortage. To spell that out, classes are being collapsed and students are being distributed to classrooms across schools. This is resulting in children not getting access to adequate teacher time and the long-term impacts of that are worrying.

Investment in education creates a foundation for other areas to thrive. Unfortunately, our current government has starved our schools of adequate funding and the results could be long-lasting.

The AEU welcomes Labor’s $188m commitment for public school capital works in 2022-23 which would start the process of restoring the joint Commonwealth and state responsibility for capital works investment, helping students to learn in modern, COVID-safe facilities.

We owe it to our potential leaders of tomorrow to prioritise their educational opportunities today.

quote from the then Grattan Institute school program director, Peter Goss, is telling:

“The federal government has locked in a model where every private school will get fully funded by 2023, whereas very few government schools will ever get fully funded. By 2030 we’re going to be having this same argument and it’s all predictable from now.”

Change is needed now.

  • David Genford, AEU Tasmania President