It was hoped Australia’s general election on May 18 2019 would deliver proper funding for public schools with the opposition party offering to increase school funding by $14 billion over the next decade -the biggest investment in public schools in our nation’s history.
Instead, following the re-election of the incumbent Government, the fight for justice for Australia’s public schools must enter a new phase. The Australian Education Union’s goal for fair funding for public schools has not been achieved and the union will keep fighting until it has.
Public schools educate two-thirds of all children yet the Australian Government has consistently refused to boost funding to public schools, while significantly increasing financial assistance to private schools.
In 2012, an independent report created a fair funding level of the minimum amount of public funding each school needs to meet the educational needs of its students. It is made up of a base amount for each student and extra loading’s for students with special needs. Thanks to Federal Government legislation and its arbitrary cap on public school funding, 99% of public schools do not receive the minimum level of funding required to meet the educational needs of their children.
This under-funding means that children are being denied additional teachers and smaller class sizes, more one-on-one support, and extra support for children with disability or behavioral needs. It also means that children are being denied their right to reach their potential.
At the same time, the Government has lavished money on private schools with a $1.9 billion special deal for capital works spending, while public schools won’t receive a dollar.
Public schools teach the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with disabilities and students in in rural communities. The lack of funding means these students are finding themselves at an extreme disadvantage and it is preventing Australia from providing equal and inclusive educational opportunities in line with SDG4. A point highlighted by the recent Spotlight Report on Australia’s approach to SDG4 that was presented by the Australian Coalition for Education Development to the UN High Level Political Forum earlier this year.
Meanwhile, on the ground, tens of thousands of Australians have joined the Fair Funding Now! Campaign to raise awareness of the issue. The grassroots campaign is made up of parents, teachers, principals and school support staff who are standing up, speaking out and creating change. Sharing their stories so that politicians and decision-makers realize that the lack of money has real impacts on children. Once a child misses out on funding they need to be able to reach their full potential, it can never be given back.
The public response to the campaign has been overwhelming. All across the country, supporters put their hands up to have conversations at school gates, made phone calls, knocked on doors, handed out leaflets and letter-boxed in their neighborhood, shared social media posts and signed petitions that were delivered to the Prime Minister.
The hard work is paying off and school funding is a significant national issue gaining regular media coverage.
The AEU will continue its campaign to keep the issue high on the agenda and ensure that public schools are fully funded. We will never give up until we win fair funding for our children.
By Susan Hopgood
About the Author
Susan Hopgood is the Federal Secretary of the Australian Education Union (AEU), the union which organises teachers and education workers in public schools, early childhood and TAFE sectors across Australia. She was elected Federal Secretary of the AEU in 2006, the first woman to hold the position. Susan first started her career teaching mathematics in secondary schools in Victoria when she also joined the teachers union and became an active member.
Susan is President of Education International (EI), the global federation of education unions which represents 32.5 million teachers and education support staff in 171 countries, and also a Vice President of the ACTU. Susan is active at national, regional and international levels in her work. She is committed to the achievement of a fair and socially just world and believes that public education for all is crucial to achieving this.