Why Chris Pyne's Gonski backflip hurts NSW kids more

chris_pyne.jpgIs Gonski Gone-ski?

This is what thousands of teachers, parents and students are asking this week.  The announcement by Education Minister Chris Pyne that he would not honour his election promise on school funding has added fuel to a well stoked policy fire.  It’s also throwing school planning into disarray.  As one Principal told me “last week we were planning our classes for next year. What we could do with our high needs kids what intensive programs we could run.  This week we don’t even know how much money we will have.”

As far as broken promises go – this is a whopper.  When wooing voters pre-election, the PM said the Coalition is “on a unity ticket” with Labor on education funding.  His Education Minister Chris Pyne said they would “match Labor’s funding commitment dollar for dollar.”

Apart from the politics - there were good reasons to make these commitments.  Gonski was the most extensive national review of school funding and performance in decades.  It found that our children are slipping behind other schools in the Asia Pacific region.  It found that the funding system was a mess and needed to be reformed.  It recommended that State and Federal Governments cooperate to significantly increase school funding – critically this should be based on student need.

“Gonski” legislation was passed through Parliament.  Agreements were posted on public websites.  Funding arrangement’s were set out in the official Pre-election Financial Outlook. The agreements were up on the Government’s website. It was very much in the public eye.  Claims of “we didn’t know” are risible.

This backflip matters more in NSW.

The Gonski backslide is a double whammy for NSW students.  Here’s why –

Prior to reaching agreement with the Feds on Gonski based funding agreement, the NSW Government cut its own education spending by $1.4 billion. Presumably with an eye to Federal money on the horizon.  A few months later NSW reached a deal which would see the Feds put $3.3 billion into Government schools (along with $1.7 billion of their own money). With the Federal Coalition now reneging on their part of the deal NSW schools could cop the NSW cut without the Gonski backfill.

Like every schoolboy who plays with fire, Christopher Pyne may end up burning more than his own fingers.  Never mind the kids.