March 19, 2013  |  Assembly Debate

School Funding

 As  a former  teacher and somebody who taught in the secondary system both in state schools and in the Catholic system for nearly 20 years,  like my colleagues on  this  side of the house  I  am very passionate about education. We know that education is so important as a means of supporting our  young people on a  pathway through to a great  future, not just to  benefit themselves but to benefit our community into the  future. I  am passionate in my belief that a good education system has to be about education for all.

I was proud to be a part  of  the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments  over  the previous 11 years, because we saw education as a priority and identified that in so many things that  we  did  as a government. When I look  at  my electorate in terms of the  funding that was spent by Labor on school  upgrades, I see two new schools built at Napoleon and at Trentham, and I see many other schools where we made significant advances in  redeveloping the school  campuses and setting  the schools in good stead for the future.

As well as  putting money into bricks  and  mortar it is important  that  we put money into funding important educational programs  like  Reading  Recovery,  the middle  years  managed individual  pathways  — MIPs —  program,  the Victorian certificate  of  applied  learning  and  so  many  other  programs that  support students, particularly students  who might otherwise  fall behind and  then fall out of the system on the wrong path.

In Ballarat  I was pleased that we  put $5  million into  the Ballarat  Learning Exchange, which is now a great centre that provides a range of programs that all schools can use. High-tech  facilities are available there, there is a  learning hub  that directs people into  pathways  for  jobs  and  there  are  some  great facilities, which have been of benefit to our community.

Funding  was also provided to support families of students with the School Start bonus  for  starters  at  primary  and  secondary  school,  with  the  education maintenance allowance (EMA), which has been so important in supporting families, and  with money going directly to schools to benefit the students from  families that are identified as being from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Many schools in my electorate have a high proportion of students on the EMA, and the support that our government provided in that area was important.

Over the last two years I have been very concerned to see what has  been done to education by the Baillieu and now Napthine governments.

When I have talked to school principals and the parents  of school students they have expressed their concern at the cuts to a number of important programs, such as  Reading  Recovery, the  Victorian  certificate of applied  learning  and the school component of the EMA. The  government  says  it  has  increased  the  EMA allowance; however, while the component to parents has been increased by a small amount,  the  larger amount going to schools has been completely cut. The amount in the EMA budget has been reduced, as has the amount for the School Start bonus and so  many other support programs.  Our schools, especially our state schools, are doing it tough. They are seeing cuts  to the programs they value and in  the number of teachers who are working. It is a great disappointment to me.

On top of that  we have seen what has happened in TAFE, where so much  money has been wiped from that sector. At the University of  Ballarat 32 courses had to be cut from its TAFE program this year, which I am told has affected 1600 students.

Last  week  Premier Napthine announced  that  funding would  go  back into TAFE. People who did not read the detail of the announcement might have thought it was a good thing and the start of the government supporting TAFE again, but that was not the  case. When  you looked at the detail of that funding announcement,  you saw it was funding in the form of one-off grants that would be provided over the next four years to TAFE  institutions as  part of  an adjustment  to the changes that  have  already  been  made.  The  32  courses  cut from the  University  of Ballarat’s  TAFE  programs will remain  cut;  the teachers who  were sacked will remain sacked;  the reduction in courses and the increased fees to students will remain. All that will continue.

Where have we come to  today?  We have a motion before us that  talks about this government’s plan in response to the Gonski report. It  is  nothing more than a party-political stunt in a  federal election year to try to make things difficult  for or to embarrass the federal government. It is not a positive action  to try to benefit education in this state; it is merely a  means of picking a fight, of saying why the state government does not like what  the federal government is doing. We know what the federal government has done. It commissioned David Gonski to undertake a review. The  Gonski  report   is  significant.  It  identifies  that  we  need   to  put substantially more  money into education across the board, and also that we need to focus on  where the disadvantages are in education and provide extra loadings to allow for disadvantages  such  as  disability,  low socioeconomic background, school size,  remoteness, the number of indigenous students and  lack of English proficiency. In my view Gonski is on the right track in looking at education for all and advocating for putting equity back into education and putting more money into  education to ensure that everybody benefits by getting a  good  chance  in schools.

I make  no excuse for saying I am particularly passionate about state education. While I taught  in the Catholic education system, and I think Catholic education offers great opportunities and I have no beef with the non-government or private education  sector overall, I know the facts. The Gonski report says 36  per cent of students in state schools are  from  the  bottom quarter of the socioeconomic spectrum. We know that there is a greater level of socioeconomic disadvantage in the state system, and we are not surprised at that. That is a special reason  to ensure that the state system is strongly supported.

This government needs to recognise that the federal government says  it  can put $1.6 billion  into our state to benefit  education. It should not try  to pick a fight or carry out some  sort of party-political stunt in regard to this matter; it needs to work with the federal government.

Yes, it might not  be happy with the full detail of what the  federal government is putting forward,  and it  has every  right to  disagree with  it because  the federal  government is not nailing it  down and saying ‘This  is the way it will operate’. The federal government will talk  with the  states and come up with an arrangement that  will work  to the benefit of all in the interests of  pursuing the ideals put forward in the Gonski report.

I am disappointed that the government has moved this  motion. It  is a political stunt,  as  I  said,  to  wedge  the  federal  government when  we know  we need cooperation between the state government  and the federal government to see some progress made on  this issue.  I see  this as  a huge  opportunity for education across this country put forward by the federal  government.  I  look  forward to seeing some great opportunities developed out of this.

I look forward  to  this state working positively with the federal government to maximise the benefit for Victoria  out  of  the  Gonski  report, adapting to the principles  put  forward in the  report by putting  more  funding into education programs in  order to provide education for all and taking note of the  specific areas of disadvantage across the board so  that more  money goes  into the state system,  and the  Catholic and  private system as well. I look forward to seeing education do well.

I also hope  that we will see an end to the dispute with teachers so that morale can be improved, teachers can be given the fair pay increase they deserve and we can  move  forward with a positive morale within our schools, supported by  both the state and federal government.

I  urge the new Premier, Premier Napthine, to not play any more political stunts but  to  go to Canberra, talk constructively with the federal government and see that we make  the best of the once-in-a-generation opportunity that I think will follow on  from the  Gonski review.  I  hope we  see some  real differences  for education.