Gonski school funding reform bill introduced to parliament

The Australian Education Bill has been introduced to parliament in response to the Gonski review of school funding. The government has named the policy 'Better Schools: A National Plan for School Improvement'.

"A quality education for every Australian child would no longer be a privilege extended by the state from time to time," said Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

"It will be an entitlement arising from their common citizenship in our commonwealth."

The government has received criticism from the opposition for the lack of detail contained in the Bill, as well as a clause stating that the Bill is not legally enforceable.

They have rejected this criticism, stating that the legislation would be changed once an agreement about the new funding system had been reached between the states, territories and private education authorities.

The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said he is confident that the government will achieve the proposed funding reform and reach an agreement with the states.

The suggested reforms were published in the February-released Review of Funding for Schooling, which was put together by chairman of the government's Future Fund, David Gonski. It found that a new funding model was necessary to ensure that all schools receive adequate funding and to lift Australia's educational performance.

The Australian Education Bill aims to achieve the following results:

  • School improvement:The Bill links school funding to improvement. It outlines a national plan for school improvement and sets a goal for Australia to be in the global top five for maths, science and reading by 2025, responding to findings that the performance of Australian students has declined over the past decade.
  • Equality for all students:The Bill aims to ensure that all Australian children receive a quality education regardless of the school they attend. It proposes to allocate a certain amount of funding per student, with additional loading for schools and students that are suffering disadvantage. The government hopes that this will decrease the gap between Australia's highest and lowest performing students.
  • Improve the current funding model: The current model (where states fund government schools and the federal government funds non-government schools) will be overturned after findings that not all states and territories could adequately fund their government schools. It is proposed that both school sectors should receive equal funding from the federal government.

What next for the Australian Education Bill?

  • The state and territory education ministers and non-government education bodies will consider the new funding arrangement, which is expected to cost the federal, state and territory governments around $6.5 billion a year. Some states, including New South Wales, have refused to back the Bill in its current state due to its lack of detail and unanswered questions about state and territory funding.
  • On December 7, the state and territory education ministers are expected to provide advice on the proposed funding system at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
  • The government hopes that the state and territory governments will sign the funding agreement at the first COAG meeting next year, which is likely to be in March.

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