Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Policy and Politics of Education Cuts

TStop the cuts - AFE teachers and students ral...
Stop the cuts - teachers and students rally outside Premier Baillieu's office (Photo credit: Takver)
by Dr Graeme Starr, Visiting Research Fellow at Australian Catholic University, The Conversation:

At a time when the Commonwealth sponsored Gonski Review of School Funding is recommending an increase of $5 billion a year plus for schools around Australia, it may seem odd that some state governments are announcing education spending cuts.

The NSW government announced $1.7 billion in cuts that would include $200 million to public schools and $67 million to the non-government school sector for recurrent funding. Some 1,800 education department in head and regional offices will lose their jobs over several years, although the government has promised no teachers will lose their jobs.

In Victoria some 950 jobs are expected to go in the education department and resistance to further reductions to class sizes. The TAFE sector is also undergoing funding cuts and being opened to increased private service provider competition.

In Queensland, the just elected Newman government has this week brought down its budget. Redundancies mainly at head office, are about 400, but overall the budget has flatlined rather than been cut. For the Independent school sector, capital grants have been maintained with a minimal increase of 0.4%. In real dollar terms, given the rate of education costs growth, this amounts to a cut.

All of these non-Labor states are looking for not just balanced budgets and smaller governments, but for a different type of public service that is less involved in direct service delivery.

Why cut?

Behind these cuts, lies the resurgence of the idea of the “contract” state - of more outsourcing, more purchaser-provider splits in the buying and delivery of policies.

These are ideas that have long been part of public service reform since the early 1990s. They have never been out of fashion, just been given an extra boost by the precarious state budget positions that each of these governments of NSW, Victoria and Queensland have inherited from their Labor predecessors.

Significantly, each of these three non-Labor states have appointed external, “independent” audit commissions to advise on their respective financial positions and to suggest areas for cuts. Ironically the NSW commission was chaired by the same David Gonski who headed the Review of School Funding which recommended a substantial funding increase.

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