Do WA public schools need more funding?

The Albanese government’s proposed “landmark” agreement with Western Australia to jointly fund improvements in public schools has faced rejection from all other states. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare revealed the five-year deal, where both the commonwealth and WA would contribute to bringing the state’s public schools up to the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) by 2026. In return, the state would implement teacher quality and student wellbeing reforms, with WA’s government schools receiving an additional $777 million.

While the Albanese government aimed to extend the co-funding plan nationally, the Australian Education Union and other states are calling for the commonwealth to independently increase its funding share to address the public school funding gap. The Gonski 2.0 education reforms by the Turnbull government required states to fund public schools at 75% of the SRS, leaving a funding gap of at least 5%.

Currently, no public school in Australia, except those in the Australian Capital Territory, receives funding at the SRS level. The federal Labor government faced criticism for its vague commitment to put schools on a “pathway” to full funding. Despite a recent deal between the commonwealth and WA, the states, including New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, maintain their stance that the commonwealth should contribute 25% of the funding to reach the SRS level.

The WA deal, if applied nationwide, could mean an additional $1.5 billion for public schools, with each state matching the commonwealth’s contribution. However, some states argue that the commonwealth should fund the remaining 5%. The AEU supports the WA deal but urges the Albanese government to increase its share to 25% of the standard, rising to 40% in the Northern Territory.

Critics argue that WA’s government schools would still be funded below 100% of their SRS, emphasizing the need for a more substantial commitment. Trevor Cobbold, an economist and national convenor of advocacy group Save our Schools, condemned states rejecting the deal, stating they were failing to commit to adequately funding public schools.

The proposed funding package will be considered by the Coalition, with opposition spokesperson Sarah Henderson pointing out that the commonwealth already meets its 20% funding requirement, placing responsibility on states and territories to bridge the gap.

In return for increased funding, WA will implement reforms based on recommendations from an independent expert education panel. These reforms include ongoing screening for student progress, professional development for teachers, and enhanced links between schools and community health services.

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