2% funding cut for public schools during pandemic

“At a time when countries around the world sought to increase support for their respective education systems to help students and teachers navigate the uncertainties of the pandemic, Australia actually reduced funding for public schools by two percent,” said Australian Education Union Federal President, Correna Haythorpe.

Australia’s public education expenditure declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of only nine member nations to cut funding, according to the latest Education At A Glance report from the OECD.

“It is astonishing that during potentially the most challenging time for teachers and students in recent history, instead of providing additional support, Australia’s funding for public schools declined,” noted Haythorpe.

“The reality on the ground of these cuts is chronic staffing shortages and intense workload pressures for teachers, principals and education support staff. The fact that we had one of the sharpest declines in public education funding in the OECD highlights the urgent need for reform.”

The report also shows that funding for the critical early years and late secondary years is not keeping pace with OECD member nations.

“These trends highlight that Australia’s investment in our children’s futures is far from optimal. Indeed, the vast majority of public schools have been denied the funding that they need for their students under the current National School Reform Agreement.

“Australia’s public schools have and continue to provide pathways to success for all students. However, they must be supported by governments to do this, with the delivery of a minimum of 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard.

“That is the challenge that Education Minister Jason Clare must urgently meet, along with all state and territory education ministers.

“It is high time that our public education system is recognised for the pivotal role it plays in our society and ensuring that it’s fully funded is the first step in the process,” Ms Haythorpe said.

Victorian schools have called on State Opposition to ensure that public schools are properly resourced and funded to at least 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) through the next state/federal funding agreement.

“Victoria’s parents and teachers, principals and support staff have repeatedly called for more investment in public schools to ensure every student has access to a high quality education,” said Meredith Peace, AEU Victorian branch president.

“Too many students do not get the individual support they need because of a lack of funding. This means students with disability and those with additional needs often miss out on the programs which would enable them to thrive.

“In 2023 Victorian public schools will be funded to only 90.4% of the SRS. School communities need a commitment from the Victorian Opposition to ensure funding for public schools is lifted to at least 100% of the SRS through the next funding agreement.

“By ignoring school funding, the Victorian Opposition is ignoring the key reason why teachers and their students lack the programs needed.”

Ms Peace said that the upcoming state election is an opportunity for political parties to make clear commitments to deliver new funding arrangements which provide what our students require.

“It is disappointing that as an alternate state government, the State Opposition has not felt the need to address the funding gap as part of their election commitments.

The AEU also raised concerns about the Victorian Liberals’ push for phonics in Victorian schools, saying that it is professionally insulting that the Opposition did not properly consult teachers before making this announcement, which is more about politics than high quality public education.

“It is shocking that the Victorian Liberals did not feel the need to consult the teaching profession before making this policy pledge. Instead of respect for and engagement with the profession, we get handed another futile panel that reviews teaching practices and curriculum.

“Teachers, principals and education support staff must be consulted on matters that determine how students are taught in schools because they have the expertise to understand the diverse needs of students and what is required for each child to reach their full potential. There is never a ‘one size fits all approach’ when it comes to teaching and learning.

“By removing professionals from the equation when developing a policy like this, political parties risk investing significant resources on measures that do not deliver any real improvements.

“There is no doubt that literacy skills are fundamental in a student’s formative years. That’s why teachers, principals and education support staff are constantly focussed on improving their student’s literacy education through a range of highly effective teaching and learning programs and strategies.

“What happens inside a classroom is best left to the judgement of skilled and qualified teachers not politicians.”

The Victoria Opposition have further missed the mark by not outlining their funding commitment to new and refurbished public school buildings and instead announced $175 million for private school capital works. This is in addition to the hundreds of millions in funding private schools receive from the Federal Government for facilities and infrastructure.

The last time the Victorian Liberals were in power, their lack of capital investment and planning meant that they did not open one new public school in Victoria despite huge enrolment pressures in growth corridors.

“Given the Victorian Liberals’ track record, public school communities have no reason to feel reassured that students would be given the investment boost and resources they need to cope with existing and new challenges.”

Education At A Glance 2022 is available on the OECD website, here.

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