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Federal Government Re-Announces School Funding Plans

The Federal Government has announced a funding package for schools worth $31.3 billion over the next four years, but most of the money was allocated in last year’s budget.

Independent schools received a 47% increase in funding, whilst state schools got 27%. For the first time, independent schools will receive more federal money than state schools – $7.6 billion, compared with $7.2 billion.

Catholic schools will receive $12.6 billion.

The measures will only add about $100 million a year to the budget, compared to the budget announcements.

The press conference held by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Minister for Education, Dr. Brendan Nelson, was notable for its emphasis on values, both men discussing the worth of education, but avoiding a commitment to increased pay for teachers.

The funding is tied to commitments by the States to conduct standardised literacy tests and introduce “plain English” teacher reports to parents.

Transcript of a joint press conference held at Parliament House, Canberra, by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Minister for Education, Brendan Nelson.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Dr Nelson and I have called this news conference to announce the aggregate Commonwealth Government funding provision to government, Catholic and independent schools throughout Australia for the 2005-2008 quadrennium.

As you are aware, we have already announced the component going to Catholic systemic schools and that amount is included here in the record $31.3 billion of Commonwealth Government funding to all categories of schools throughout Australia over the period 2005 to 2008. This aggregate amount represents an increase of 25 per cent in Commonwealth Government funding to those three categories of schools over the 2001 to 2004 quadrennium. It does, as I mentioned, include the additional amounts that are going to Catholic schools.

As part of this new quadrennium funding package, there will be $2 billion provided for a new literacy, numeracy and special learning needs programme, and this programme will target the most disadvantaged schools, including those with disabilities. I should mention a number of specific points.

This money is being provided by the Commonwealth Government conditional on schools, in the area of literacy and numeracy, providing results to parents and reporting those results against the national benchmarks in those categories. We’ll also be requiring schools to provide national consistency in a number of areas, including commencement dates for schooling. We now have a situation where there is a much higher incidence of children travelling interstate after commencing school – some 80,000. We’re requiring some common tests in areas such as literacy and numeracy, and we’ll also be requiring the provision of easy to understand, plain English reports.

We’re also releasing a discussion paper, and I’ll invite Dr Nelson to say something more about that, in relation to many aspects of education. We’ll be seeking to engage the parents of Australian schoolchildren in a discussion about the sort of material they want to receive from their schools, the sort of contact, the sort of communication, their input in relation to professional development for teachers. This does represent a very… a strong financial commitment over the next quadrennium by the Commonwealth Government to all levels of schools. It is consistent with the longstanding funding arrangements that have existed between federal and state governments in this country, under both Labor and Coalition administrations, whereby the bulk of the funding of government schools is provided by state governments, which in turn, let me remind you, receive about 50 per cent of their funding from the Federal Government, with essentially top up funding provided for government schools directly by the Federal Government, and in a sense the reverse applying in relation to independent and Catholic schools.

Could I just conclude, ladies and gentlemen, in saying that this funding provision, which is a record amount, does not involve cutting Federal Government funding to any school throughout Australia. That has been a cardinal, core principle of our approach to school funding ever since we’ve been in office. Every time an Australian parent sends his or her child to a non-government school, it relieves the taxpayer of a financial burden, and in those circumstances that parent is entitled to some financial assistance irrespective of the school to which the child is sent. The level of that assistance properly to be determined according to the need of that parent. Dr Nelson may wish to supplement what I’ve said and then we’d be happy to take questions.

NELSON:

Thank you, Prime Minister. To further clarify the Prime Minister’s announcement today of $31.3 billion, which is as the Prime Minister says is a record sum of investment in schooling by any Australian Government, over the next four years if you adjust for enrolment growth in the sectors and assume that there was no change in enrolment in government, Catholic and independent schools, this represents a 28 per cent increase in funding to government schools over the next four years. The 27 per cent increase in funding to independent schools and by virtue of them choosing now to join the socio-economic status funding formula for non-government school, the Catholic sector will receive a 32 per cent increase in funding.

As the Prime Minister says, it is increasingly important that we move to national consistency in education. We’re all very proud of the states from which we come, but increasingly we’re preparing our children to be Australian citizens and at the moment we have eight different starting ages across Australia. We’ve got 80,000 school aged children who moved interstate last year and in many cases their parents have told me they felt like they were moving to a different country in an educational sense. We’re saying to the states that if you want to receive, in a sense, $9.8 billion to supplement their funding to state government schools over the next four years, they will be required now to deliver on commitments they have made already to national consistency and a starting age by 2010.

We’re also seeking national consistency, not the mediocrity of a national curriculum, but we want common tests to be delivered for our children in reading and writing, in science, in ICT and in civics and democracy. We will also require, as the Prime Minister said, state governments to report to parents the results of reading and writing and numeracy tests in years three, five and seven if they wish to receive this significant sum of money from the Australian Government. It is unacceptable that in only three of the eight jurisdictions at the moment do parents actually know how their children are going against the national benchmarks in reading and writing. We also want parents, especially in primary school, to get plain language reports that tell them exactly how their children and travelling through the education system. We will also be requiring publication of materials such as teacher participation in ongoing professional development and ongoing training, retention rates of teachers and we will of course require all schools in Australia to actually have a national safe schools framework which has already been developed and provided to them, so that in every school our children feel safe and every school not only identifies bullying and other unsafe practices but is actually involved in preventing it and dealing with it when it occurs.

The Prime Minister also referred to the consultation paper which we are releasing today. This consultation paper is asking the most important people in the education system apart from our children and that is parents, asking them and their teachers – how do we identify a good teacher? How do we attract good teachers? What do we want in education for our boys? What kinds of values do we want to inform the education of our children? What sort of life skills do we want? What sort of basic skills do we want our children to have when they leave school? And we’re inviting the Australian community to advise us of this by the end of April and our intention will be to introduce this legislation sometime after the Budget in May.

JOURNALIST:

Does the Commonwealth have a view on the level of remuneration for teachers?

NELSON:

Well, the most important thing that our society needs to do is raise the respect that we have for teaching as a profession and to support that with serious resources for their ongoing training and professional development. This Government is currently investing some $160 million in teacher professional development, we’ve just announced last year the establishment of a national institute for quality teaching and school leadership. We are very strongly of the view that teachers need to be rewarded for going the extra mile for our kids. It is a prescription for mediocrity when the most disengaged, disillusioned and detached and jaded teacher, who is a minority of the teaching profession, that turns up late, goes home early and doesn’t care too much about what goes on in between is paid exactly the same as the teacher who gets in early, cares about our children, is on the phone to parents at night. It’s critically important that education authorities move to performance based pay and rewards to the profession.

JOURNALIST:

But are teachers underpaid Dr Nelson?

NELSON:

I think by any standard most Australians would certainly agree that teachers deserve more pay, a higher level of pay, but I think equally they would expect that professionalism and quality is rewarded.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I agree completely with what he said. I said this years ago. I’ve always taken the view that teaching should be a more respected and more rewarded profession, but we don’t employ teachers, we don’t run any schools.

JOURNALIST:

Are they worth as much as lawyers, for example?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, somebody is worth what society or the competitive environment will pay them. I’m not getting into comparisons. But I’m simply making the observation that it is a very important profession. It should be more respected. I think part of the problem is that it’s been in the stranglehold of union militancy for too long, which enforces the lowest common denominator – a mediocre outcome – which is the very point that Brendan is making. I mean in the end it is up to the employers of the teachers. We don’t employ any teachers. The teachers in government schools are employed by state governments, teachers in independent schools are employed by the different bodies that run them, and teachers in the Catholic systemic system are employed by those systems. And obviously there are remedies available if they wish to deal with the question of remuneration, but the principle that Brendan outlined I totally agree with.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, do states stand to lose money if they don’t sign up to the national performance measures, and do you expect a repeat of the brawl you had with Premiers last year on the Medicare health agreement?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think those Premiers will walk out of another Premiers’ conference. They made themselves look quite stupid when they walked out and put on their respective football guernseys to have a photo shoot. I mean if they want to have a repeat of it, I’ll make sure the next Premiers’ conference is not towards the end of the football season, and we might avoid a repeat of that. But look, we’re providing a lot of money and that money is being provided conditional on meeting our requirements, and of course it’s being provided on that basis. But I’m sure in the end they will come to the party on that, because they are reasonable conditions, and what’s more the parents of children at state schools want this information. It’s pretty basic stuff. We’re just asking that if your child submits to a test in relation to literacy and numeracy, that the results should be reported to parents and it should be reported against the national benchmark. Parents want this information, they’re entitled to this information, and teacher unions should not be allowed to get in the way. I mean the problem is that the teacher unions don’t like this, and once again they are standing in the way of progress.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) funding if those requirements aren’t met.

PRIME MINISTER:

We expect all state school and all independent schools to meet these requirements. I’m sure they will.

JOURNALIST:

Is there anything in this package, Dr Nelson, to encourage more male teachers into the system?

NELSON:

Well the package naturally includes significant resourcing for schools in a recurrent sense in capital works. It will also include professional development to support teachers in the areas of learning difficulties and disabilities. We’ve already committed close to $5 million for specific measures in relation to boys’ education, but apart from those things, there is nothing specific in this package for the encouragement of men into teaching itself. We’ve already announced, as you know, higher education reform putting close to $100 million in the next four years into the training of teachers themselves, and of course whilst we’re responding to the calls for fee flexibility in the higher education sector, we’ve said that we wouldn’t allow an increase in teaching and nursing.

JOURNALIST:

Is it true that the number of scholarships proposed by the Catholic Schools is just 12, and if that is the case, how does that address this crisis in…

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven’t said that allowing the Catholic education system to offer scholarships is the total answer. We’ve not said that. It’s one of many things. I mean Dr Nelson has mentioned the extra provisions in the higher education package. He’s mentioned the Lighthouse programmes and a number of other initiatives that have been adopted in relation to schools. But one of the things you can do is to apply a commonsense amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to allow scholarships to be offered. And if the Catholic Education Commission is allowed to offer them, perhaps others will do the same, and it would be open to state governments to do the same thing, it would be open to independent schools. But why on earth can’t we have a commonsense amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act? Is a fanatical commitment to never altering anything in the Sex Discrimination Act more important than a series of measures to address the problem of a lack of men in teaching?

JOURNALIST:

Do you now support affirmative action, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

I support an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to allow, in a commonsense way, people to offer scholarships…

JOURNALIST:

Isn’t this a precedent, for example, for the Liberal Party and for other…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Paul, you’re the commentator. I’m the Prime Minister. And I’m supporting a measure, a measure which passes the pub test, the commonsense test.

JOURNALIST:

It’s an affirmative action measure, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’m proposing a measure that will allow somebody to do something practical to address an issue that both sides of politics believe should be addressed. I mean we are actually trying to do things about it. We’re not just talking about it.

JOURNALIST:

How do you respond to Pru Goward’s concern that it undermines the merit test and invites resentment?

PRIME MINISTER:

No well I listened to what Pru said. I thought she would say that. And I just disagree with her. Look I just think you have to apply commonsense. This is not some dramatic earth shattering, dark ages attempt to undermine the Sex Discrimination Act. It is a commonsense response to a problem. And I heard that the Opposition Leader said on the radio programme this morning that there is an avenue through the Sex Discrimination Act where this could be done without an amendment. My understanding is that that is exactly what the Catholic Education Office tried. They asked for an exemption and they were knocked back, and they’re now before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Well I think that is a nonsensical position. You want to offer 12 scholarships to attract some men into your schools and you’re struck down by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and then you’ve got to go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I think in a situation like that, the public interest requires that the Government step in and make sure that the legislation is not denying commonsense outcomes.

JOURNALIST:

Dr Nelson, what happens to the independent schools that were funded on a funding maintained basis in the last agreement? What happens to them now? And will you carry that to the schools who are worse off under this agreement?

NELSON:

The Government made a commitment in 2001 that funding maintenance, in other words the schools would not be disadvantaged by the new SES system, would be maintained and maintained until 2008, and that is precisely what’s happening in this package. The schools whose SES scores have increased, which includes by any standards some of the poorest non-government schools in the country, whilst their money will not be increased, it will not be cut until indexation supplementation catches up with them and if I might Prime Minister add further to your answer about the boys’ issue. We had a discussion earlier about teachers and the value of teachers. Apart from us as parents there is no person who most influences and informs the kind of adults we become than teachers. The relationship between a teacher and a child, whether a boy and a girl, is like the relationship between no other professional person. We have mothers in this country who stand in public meetings in tears because their sons often from fatherless families through no fault of their own have reached their adolescence without ever having had a male role model in their lives and what the Prime Minister and the Government, what we’re trying to do is to allow the application of plain commonsense.

In terms of merit, what we’re proposing to do is that a State Government, Catholic Education Commission, an independent school, a single little Montessori school, for example, doesn’t have deep pockets to spend time on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal trying to fight this Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. We’re saying to them, you are free to offer a scholarship to attract more men into primary school teaching and of course it is merit based. A young man who might otherwise choose to do arts or engineering says instead, I will now go into teaching and get into teaching on a merit basis determined by the university as you know on academic merit and that’s plain commonsense and the only thing that’s been discriminated against here is the application of commonsense and there’s no point the Government spending the next decade hand-wringing and saying what are we going to do about this problem? We are determined to address it and we’re determined to see that the mothers and fathers of this country get a fair deal for their sons.

JOURNALIST:

…where are the dollars for male teachers then in this package?

NELSON:

Well, as the Prime Minister said, the employment of teachers themselves is the responsibility of state public education authorities, of catholic and independent schools. We’ve got record increases and indexation to funding of those schools and I think it’s time for the education system and in the non-government sector, by the way, they are increasingly moving in this direction to provide performance-based rewards for teachers.

JOURNALIST:

If you can set benchmarks for starting dates of schools and as you’ve eloquently outlined the seriousness of the problem as far as male teachers. Why not provide some prescriptions, in terms, of what the states do, in terms, of male teachers?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s not the responsibility of the Federal Government…

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I’m sorry. It’s not the responsibility of the Federal Government when it’s provided an enormous increase already to do the job of the education providers. We’re not an education provider.

JOURNALIST:

…you are saying that in terms of benchmarks though?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are not an education provider, we are a Government that provides resources and the question of whether you might have benchmarks is something that you don’t necessary rule out, if that’s what you’re getting at. But isn’t it more sensible at the beginning to allow the individual providers of education to do what they think might be desirable. I mean, we’re talking here about an attempt by one of the education providers to get more male teachers and they’re being stopped, and they’re being stopped by federal legislation which we can fix. It’s not state legislation, it’s federal legislation and we can fix it and we’re going to fix it. And the only people standing in our way at the moment are the opposition parties in the Senate. Now, hopefully they will adopt the commonsense approach. But this is something that we can fix straight away. The question of whether we can do other things down the line, we don’t rule them out. We’ll apply the same commonsense principles, but right now we have a specific issue. There’s an initiative by one of the education providers and we’re doing something about it and for the life of me I can’t understand why the Labor Party is against it. I just can’t. Unless their ideological commitments to not altering a comma in a particular piece of legislation is more important than the application of commonsense.

JOURNALIST:

One of the funding measures here is a commitment by the State and Territory Governments that there be no cost shifting – how do you hope to do that?

NELSON:

Well, we’ll be naturally building that into the legislation. That will be the product of quite intense negotiation with the states. It’s critically important that when the Australian Government provides resources to state governments for education, that it’s directed for the things which it’s intended.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on another matter, the interactive gambling act has been under review for a while. How close is the Government now to a report on that, particularly in reference to internet betting exchanges, which are featuring in Britain at the moment in a couple of scandals?

PRIME MINISTER:

Malcolm, I would have to get advice on the precise status of how that examination is going. I am aware of the desire of some of the offshore operators desiring to establish a presence in the states, where they would need permission of the states in order to do so and to bring these more exotic forms of gambling to Australia. I mean, it’s very difficult to prevent those sort of activities occurring on the internet, but certainly if there are ways in which we can, as a Government, prevent the further spread of gambling in this country, we would certainly wish to do so. You are aware of a number of the measures that we’ve already undertaken and if as a result of that examination there are further things that we can do, we will, but as I say, without advice I can’t say exactly where it is at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, a Senate Committee has reported this morning on the basis of information from welfare groups that between 2 million and 2.5 million Australians live in poverty. What’s your response?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t seen that report, but I’m told that there is a majority Opposition report, as you always get in Senates now, and they always say the world is coming to an end because they’re in the Opposition. And there’s a minority Government report. What I can say is that all of the studies I have seen indicate that although the rich have got richer, it is also true that welfare payments for poorer people have significantly improved over the last eight years. The NATSEM investigation of the Government’s family benefits changes indicated that the largest gains were enjoyed by those at the lowest end of the income range. There is little doubt that the low levels of unemployment Australia is now enjoying mean that more and more people have work. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are living in poverty. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are missing out, if I can use that expression. Of course there are. But it’s very important to get this income distribution thing in perspective. To the extent that any gaps have widened, it has been that people at the top – there are more of them, and they’re doing better. It’s not that there has been an inadequacy of support at the bottom. It’s fair to say that the rich have got richer, but the poor have not got poorer.

JOURNALIST:

The report also recommends a statutory authority be set up to report to you directly on meeting poverty benchmarks. Will you consider that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have a well-known reluctance to set up further statutory bodies. I don’t think the answer to these issues is to have more bureaucracy. I think the answer to these issues is to continually improve benefits to provide safety nets for low income people, as we are now doing in the Senate against the opposition of the Labor Party. I mean it’s very interesting the very day that a Labor dominated Senate Committee report comes out, that same Labor Party in the Senate will presumably vote against a Medicare safety net which for the first time will provide to the low income families of Australia a protection under Medicare they now don’t have. I mean a beautiful juxtaposition. Once again, don’t look at what Labor says. Look at what Labor does. Labor says it is concerned about the poor, that’s what it says, and it produces a report to say it’s concerned about the poor, but when it’s got an opportunity to support a new safety net, it votes against it. And it was because of Labor’s opposition to that safety net that it has been denied to people for months longer than should have been the case.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott has said numerous times over the past few months that there was a fear that lowering the safety net threshold would have an inflationary effect on doctors’ fees? Do you share that fear?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I share Tony’s view that yesterday was a great day for Medicare.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, Alby Schultz has just absented himself from the Telstra vote in the House yet again. Are you disappointed that he has broken ranks?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. He told me he was going to do that.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) questions about the leadership?

PRIME MINISTER:

Would I like to answer what?

JOURNALIST:

Mr McMullan’s question about the leadership from the Parliament over the last three days.

PRIME MINISTER:

I shall remain leader of the Liberal Party for so long as the party wants me to and it’s in the best interests of the party that I do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, does today’s announcement indicate that you are working your way through the Australian Education Union policy book and proposing everything they oppose?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it means that we are interested in good education outcomes for Australian children, we believe profoundly in the principle of the right of Australian parents to choose the education that best suits the interest of their children, and it also believes that we have an evenhanded approach to the funding responsibilities that we have. I mean may I remind you again Dennis that 68 per cent of Australian children attend government schools, 76 per cent of aggregate government funding goes to those schools. By any measure, we are adopting an evenhanded approach and we look forward to debates on this issue in the months ahead. We are for choice. We’re very proud of what we have done for government schools, we’re very proud of the burgeoning of new independent schools, and we’re very proud of what we have done particularly for the underresourced schools within the Catholic education system. So we’re very strong in our commitment to education.

JOURNALIST:

Dr Nelson, is the fact that pay at the moment isn’t (inaudible) for teachers not based on performance contracts, has that affected quality of education in government schools, do you think, or all sorts?

NELSON:

Well there are many problems Louise. In fact the most commonly cited reason for young people, men and women, not going into teaching is because that they feel that our society doesn’t place a high enough value, professional value, on teaching itself. And in fact, paradoxically some of the militancy of the unions in support of teachers have actually put a lot of young people off going into it. The second thing is they feel that they’re not adequately supported in classrooms in terms of discipline, behaviour and what they are able to do in actual teaching. And then salaries and other issues then come into it after that. One of the very important things that teachers basically say is that if you work hard, you do your very best, you reach a point within five to seven years of graduation where your salary plateaus, and bright, committed, enthusiastic young people – men and women – they just say, look I’ve had enough, I’m out of it.

PRIME MINISTER:

One more, and then we must go.

JOURNALIST:

The latest job figures came in lower than expected. What does that say about the economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

The economy remains powerful and robust. There has been a tiny rise in the unemployment level, but there has been some reclassification carried out by the ABS. But it remains under six per cent. It has been so since September. We have a very strong employment outlook, fuelled and supported by a very strongly growing economy. Thank you.


This is the text of an article from The Age, March 12, 2004.

$31bn, but virtually every cent was already promised

By Josh Gordon

The Coalition’s much-hyped school funding package will wipe just $100 million a year from its war chest because most of the cash was set aside in last year’s budget.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson yesterday said the $31.3 billion package for schools was the biggest in Australian history, offering an extra $8 billion more than the current four-year deal.

But last year’s budget papers show most of this money had already been allocated, with Commonwealth money for state schools rising automatically at an annual rate of about 6.5 per cent. According to a table on pages 6-19 of Budget Paper No. 1, school funding will hit $8.1 billion by 2006-07, with an estimated total of about $31 billion over the four years to 2007-08.

Of the remaining $400 million in new money – a figure confirmed yesterday by senior Government sources – $362 million was unveiled last month by Prime Minister John Howard as a boost for Catholic schools. That leaves almost no new cash in yesterday’s announcement.

Although the election is still probably at least six months away, spending promises are being laid on thick and fast by both sides of politics. According to analysis by The Age, since the Government’s budget update in December last year, it has made about $3.34 billion of new promises, including a $427 million increase to its Medicare package, $267 million for war veterans, $1.2 billion for local roads, $80 million for extra child-care places, and $26 million for sugar farmers.

Labor has also dramatically increased its spending announcements, to the tune of about $6.68 billion – double the Coalition’s.

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