(Note: This article outlines the first four years of the campaign, for current Gonski campaign information visit the QTU's Gonski webpage)
2010-2014: School funding campaign - we give a gonski
In the hurly-burly of the 2007 “WorkChoices” federal election, the kernel of the defining education campaign of the second decade of the 21st century was developed: the first comprehensive review of school funding across Australia since 1973.
In 2010, under a different Prime Minister and after another federal election, the review promised by the Labor opposition in 2007 came into being. Led by prominent businessman David Gonski, the School Funding Review (Gonski review) was set up to examine the very complex way in which the federal government funds schools across Australia. The review panel was asked to advise the government on how schools funding could be “transparent, fair, financially sustainable and effective in promoting excellent education outcomes for all Australian students”.
The review got off to a promising start, with the Gonski panel releasing a discussion paper that defined education equity: “Equity should ensure that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. The panel does not intend it to mean that all students are the same or will achieve the same outcomes, but rather that they will not be prevented from achieving their maximum potential because of their background or family circumstances.”
The review panel visited schools, commissioned independent research, consulted education groups and considered more than 7,000 submissions. The QTU provided its own submission and early campaigning focussed on local submissions from QTU members, schools and individuals, with some 1,000 submissions generated from Queensland alone.
QTU members were spirited and dedicated campaigners in support of the new fair funding model, taking part in or organising: two bus tours; numerous street/market stalls from Cape York to Coolangatta; statewide morning teas; Community Cabinet meetings; two Gonski rallies; statewide community forums; discussions with parent groups; visits to Canberra; "Hands across the border" events (Coolangatta, Wallangarra, Goondiwindi) and a Gonski morning tea with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
The dedication of members is epitomised by Gonski hero Barbara Nelson (The Gap Branch) who suffered a badly broken arm and leg while letterboxing Gonski materials and spent her time in hospital educating the medical staff about Gonski.
In February 2012, the “Gonski Report” was handed to the federal government. The panel found that the current funding system lacked clarity and transparency, and that funding for educationally disadvantaged students was inadequate. It recommended that the government should develop a new model for schools funding, based on a “schooling resource standard” – a cost for educating students to a benchmark standard. On top of this funding, the report recommended loadings to meet the needs of students likely to need extra help; for example, students with English as a second language, from poorer families and in remote areas.
The final model was not released until just before the 2013 federal election, with the then federal government negotiating “deals” with individual states, territories and sectors. The Queensland Government refused to sign up, denying Queensland students significant additional long-term resources.
In November 2013, tireless campaigning finally paid off when the Queensland Government announced that it had reached a deal with the new Abbott Liberal/National Coalition federal government. That resulted in $131 million of additional funding for Queensland schools in 2014, at best, two-thirds of what would have been delivered under the Rudd Labor government’s original model (because there is no state government additional payment). Importantly, this first instalment was to be delivered directly to schools. However, the funds were not distributed according to need or the factors of educational disadvantage as recommended by the Gonski Review.
An additional concern is the lack of clarity and certainty around the funding model for 2015 and beyond. Schools need certainty and they need to have a commitment to a funding arrangement that will see each student who started prep this year receive the benefits of additional funding in every year of his or her schooling.
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 119 number 2, 125th Anniversary Special Edition, p28-29