The 2021 federal budget was the most important in decades. As Australia starts to rebuild its economy post-COVID, the federal government had an opportunity to address the central importance of public education in fostering the knowledge and skills our nation needs to create a sustainable future.
The AEU has been campaigning hard to ensure both parties know what our schools, TAFEs and early childhood centres need to provide the best quality education for Australians. And our members have worked tirelessly to make their voices heard. So, how did Morrison’s latest budget measure up?
What we want for schools
- Public schools funded to at least 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS)
- Remove legislated 20% cap on Commonwealth share of the SRS for public schools
- Abolish 4% capital depreciation tax in school funding bilateral agreements
- Establish capital fund to help meet rising enrolment and infrastructure needs
Despite federal education minister Alan Tudge’s recent assertion that Australia is set to become an education superpower by 2030, there is no sign of the funding our public schools urgently require to meet the basics, let alone Tudge’s vision.
Current funding arrangements remain heavily biased in favour of private schools. As it stands, public schools face a $19 billion funding shortfall in meeting the SRS over the next four years. The federal government provides no money at all for public school infrastructure, creating a $21.5 billion capital investment gap between the public and private sectors – and growing, according to a recent report from economist Adam Rorris.
Where funding has been earmarked for schools, it has been funnelled into specific programs such as ‘Transition to Work’, the youth employment services program aimed not at keeping disadvantaged young people in schools, but rather assisting them to move into the workforce. Additional funding will be directed to programs designed to help school communities foster greater ‘social cohesion’. While any extra money is welcome, this program-specific funding fails to meet the basic operational support our public schools so urgently need.
In his budget reply speech, Labor leader Anthony Albanese failed to make any concrete commitments to address the SRS shortfall, remove the 20% cap, or establish a capital fund for public schools. Shadow Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek has pledged that, under Labor, success at school would not be limited by postcode or socio-economic status. At this stage, it remains unclear what that means for funding.
What we want for early childhood
- Ongoing funding for 15 hours of preschool a week for every four-year-old
- The introduction of federal funding for three-year-old preschool
For the first time, the Morrison government has committed to ongoing funding for preschool education for four-year-olds across the next four years, worth around $1.6bn. The move is long overdue, with the federal government previously refusing to guarantee this funding beyond the end of each financial year, leaving the sector in a constant state of uncertainty. This is a big win for AEU members, who have fought for secure funding for eight years through our Preschool Funding Now! campaign.
Albanese has stressed that “vital” quality education needs to begin in the first five years of a child’s life – but, so far, his pledges towards the early childhood sector have been primarily aimed at parents, with promises to simplify the “confusing and costly” system of caps and subsidies.
What we want for TAFE
- Reversal of $3 billion in funding cuts to vocational education since 2013
- Guaranteed minimum 70% of VET funding directed to TAFE
The failure to recognise the crucial importance of TAFE in this so-called “recovery budget” is a shocking oversight by the Morrison government. Rather than support our quality public TAFE system, Morrison will once again deliver millions in taxpayer dollars to poor quality private colleges and the job network.
Albanese has backed the AEU’s Rebuild with TAFE campaign, saying “TAFE is where people learn the skills that will build our future.” In his budget response, he said Labor’s education platform would see more funding given to TAFEs to upskill young Australians and address the plunge in apprentice numbers of 140,000 since 2013.
We look forward to this positive funding platform from Labor at the next election.