For everyone Never enough for education

  • By Rachel Power
  • This article was published more than 9 months ago.
  • 25 Jul 2023

The AEU has condemned the Victorian government’s decision to cut funding for public schools and TAFEs in its 2023–24 state budget, along with its failure to invest in measures to address shortages in what has become the worst workforce crisis in decades.

“Public school teachers, principals and support staff have repeatedly called on the government to urgently implement a range of strategies to attract and retain more teachers in the workforce, such as retention payments and financial incentives for pre-service teachers,” said AEU Victorian branch president Meredith Peace.

Prior to the state budget, the AEU launched a petition calling on the Victorian government to provide paid placements for all pre-service teachers, which has attracted over 5,500 signatures. (You can sign the petition here.) Pre-service teachers in Victoria are required to complete up to 80 days of unpaid professional placement during their university training – something that has become increasingly unsustainable amidst the rising costs of living.

“This budget was a chance for the state government to make some big changes and fix the issues plaguing Victoria’s public schools and the teaching workforce. It is unfortunate that they’ve chosen actively not to take that chance,” Meredith said.

The Andrews government will build nine new schools in metropolitan Melbourne to meet growing demand, which puts them on track to meet their commitment to build 100 new schools by 2026. “However, AEU members remain highly concerned about how these schools will be staffed, given how many public schools in Victoria do not have fully qualified teachers in front of classrooms right now,” Meredith said.

The AEU also denounced the Andrews government’s decision to cut funding allocations for TAFE. “Fee-free TAFE sounds good in a headline. But the reality is, TAFE in Victoria is not funded for the actual cost of course delivery.”

Just prior to budget day, Swinburne announced plans to axe its TAFE horticulture courses due to a lack of adequate funding – just one in a long list of cancelled courses and qualifications in Victoria over the past decade.

“Fee-free TAFE sounds good in a headline. But the reality is, TAFE in Victoria is not funded for the actual cost of course delivery.”

Meredith Peace

“The state government knows this is a problem,” Meredith said. “Their own review made it clear that Victoria’s TAFEs are not funded to cover the full cost of training. The Premier has repeatedly stated his government will ‘Save TAFE’, but if they slash TAFE funding and refuse to address the chronic underfunding of TAFE, they have no right to that claim.”

The one light was the Victorian Premier’s decision to allocate a further $3 billion to facilitate the expansion of the Free Kinder program for three and four-year olds in Victoria.

Education was also largely ignored in the Albanese government’s 2023–24 federal budget, its only concession being $40 million to ensure full funding for all schools in Central Australia.

Despite the Albanese government’s commitment to full funding, current funding arrangements leave public schools across Australia well below the minimum Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) set out in federal legislation. In January, state and federal education ministers made a decision to extend the current inequitable National Schools Reform Agreement to the end of 2024 while the funding model is reviewed.

The federal Education Minister Jason Clare used Public Education Day on 25 May to restate his pledge to secure a pathway for all schools to reach 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard and “finish the job that David Gonski started”. He said the budget reflects his government’s decision to fund the most disadvantaged schools first.

“Non-government schools at the moment are above the Gonski schooling resource standard of 100%,” Minister Clare told ABC’s Radio National Breakfast. “Public schools will top out at about 95% in different states over the next decade. “The NT won’t reach 100% until 2050. We decided to bring that forward for the most disadvantaged students in central Australia, by 26 years, by 2024.”

A report by economist Adam Rorris last year revealed that public schools remain underfunded by almost $6.5 billion – or an average $1,800 per student.

“All public schools should be moving closer to the target of being fully funded to 100% of the Schooling Resource Standard,” says Meredith. “But instead, they are still being deprived of the necessary funding and resources that ensure every student has access to the high-quality education they need to thrive.

“Australia now has an entire cohort of Year 12 students who have never attended a fully funded public school. It’s important to get the model right – but fair and full funding can’t come soon enough.“

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