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What A Budget Focused On 'Jobs And Growth' Would Really Look Like

Cutting school funding is a bad place to start.

28/04/2017 10:45 AM AEST | Updated 28/04/2017 10:45 AM AEST
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"Great schools are not just good for individual students, they are vital for our economy too."

The weeks leading up to the federal budget are the customary time for leaks, playing the 'rule in/ rule out game' and making budget predictions. So, just two weeks shy of the budget, here are a few predictions for education.

Malcolm Turnbull's current schools policy is virtually the same as Tony Abbott's from the 2014 budget: cutting funding by over $30 billion. (You can see the cuts clearly on page 7 of the 2014-15 budget overview.)

Those cuts kick in next year, but Mr Turnbull is refusing to tell anyone exactly how these cuts will affect each school in each system in each state.

The Prime Minister is desperate to keep the details of new funding arrangements under wraps for as long as he can because he knows parents, teachers, and state governments will be furious when they discover how badly their schools will be affected.

Australia's government spending on schools as a percentage of GDP is below the OECD average. We need to do better if we want to be an innovative, high wage, high productivity economy.

The $30 billion of cuts over the next decade is an average of around $3 million ripped from each school in Australia: about the same as sacking one in every seven of our teachers.

It's a shocker of a schools' policy; right up there with the suggestion Malcolm Turnbull made last year that all federal funding should be ripped from public schools.

As the 2017 Budget fast approaches, the government is no doubt figuring out how they can possibly put a positive spin on such cuts.

One thing they might do is roll funding for pre-school, TAFE and schools together in an attempt to hide the fact there are massive cuts to all three systems (pre-school and TAFE 'national partnership agreement' funding runs out this year).

Or they might pretend that taking some money off a small number of over-funded schools will make up for their massive $30 billion of cuts. It won't go anywhere close.

Under John Howard, the biggest funding increases went to private schools (a 60 percent increase for private schools compared to 30 percent for public schools).

The last Labor government reversed this. Under our needs-based funding the biggest increases went to the schools that taught the children with the greatest educational needs. It didn't matter whether those schools were public, Catholic or independent. But it turned out that public schools received much bigger funding increases under our system because they teach around 80 percent of Australia's poorest kids, 80 percent of Indigenous students and 70 percent of kids with a disability.

Labor will work with the Liberals if they propose bringing any overfunded schools down to the Schooling Resource Standard to give more to needier schools. But that won't make up for the fact that, under Malcolm Turnbull, every school is facing cuts.

His government might also try to claim needs-based funding wasn't working. You only need to talk to parents, teachers, principals and students to know just what a difference the early years of extra funding was already making. Schools are already able to point to better literacy and numeracy results, more teaching of science and coding, and more young people getting university offers.

The Liberals might say that 'money for schools doesn't matter, it's about reform.' It's no wonder teachers and parents are a little skeptical on this count. It was this Liberal Government that, nearly four years ago, tore up the biggest school reform agenda in a generation, only to replace it with nothing.

That agenda focused on more say for Principals in running their schools; better initial teaching training; more professional development and mentoring for teachers; and more help for kids who are falling behind.

Most economists, the Australia Institute, the OECD, agree that investing in our schools is better for national productivity and higher living standards than giving big businesses a tax cut.

Reform matters, but money matters too. Only a government that is cutting schools by $30 billion would try to argue that money doesn't matter. It tells you everything you need to know about this government that they think $30 billion for schools won't make any difference, but a $50 billion tax cut for big business and the banks will make all the difference.

The $50 billion big business tax cut is the equivalent of about $2000 for every Australian man, woman, and child. I don't know a single parent who -- if they had $2000 in their hand -- would rather hand it to a bank to prop up their profits than give it to their local school.

Great schools are not just good for individual students, they are vital for our economy too.

Most economists, the Australia Institute, the OECD, agree that investing in our schools is better for national productivity and higher living standards than giving big businesses a tax cut.

Other developed countries are spending more than Australia on school education. In fact, Australia's government spending on schools as a percentage of GDP is below the OECD average. We need to do better if we want to be an innovative, high wage, high productivity economy.

Indeed, a report released by the OECD just last month reiterated if we want inclusive economic growth Australia should stick with the reforms to school funding introduced by Labor in 2013 -- not scrap them like the Liberals are doing.

The Government should use the upcoming budget to walk away from the $30 billion of school cuts from the 2014 budget that kick in next year. They should restore funding for pre-schools and TAFE. They should abandon proposed cuts to universities.

That's what a budget focused on "jobs and growth" would look like.

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