Battle over Gonski funding for Blue Mountains schools

Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman and State Member for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle outside Blaxland High School.
Federal Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman and State Member for Blue Mountains Trish Doyle outside Blaxland High School.

Blue Mountains public schools face $5 million in funding cuts over the next two years under the Turnbull’s government’s “Gonski 2.0” reforms, Labor and the unions have claimed.

But their accusations were angrily rejected by Liberal Senator Marise Payne, who accused government critics of “doing their calculations on the back of an envelope”.

While the Turnbull government’s new online school calculator shows all Blue Mountains schools enjoying funding increases over the next 10 years [see graph below], it has faced a barrage of criticism from Labor, the NSW Teachers Federation and NSW Education secretary Mark Scott.

Even NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes questioned whether the funding figures in the calculator “represent reality or not”.

State Labor MP Trish Doyle and Federal Labor MP Susan Templeman said Blaxland High School would be slugged with a cut of $577,850 to its budget under the new reforms, while $495,486 will be slashed from Winmalee High School.

“The Blue Mountains primary schools facing the biggest cuts are Hazelbrook Public, which will lose $290,465, and Springwood Public, which loses $274,241,” they said in a statement.

Their figures were based on NSW Teachers Federation calculations released last week which showed the state’s public schools would lose $846m over the next two years under the federal government plan.

The union based its claim on the difference between what NSW would have received in 2018 and 2019 if Canberra had agreed to fully fund the final two years of Labor’s Gonski model — which it didn’t — compared with the new federal model.

NSW Education secretary, Mark Scott raised the alarm bell on May 11 when he sent an email to principals warning them not to trust the government's new school funding calculator – a missive hotly disputed by the secretary of the federal Department of Education and Training.

MsTempleman said the data for NSW shows an immediate $1.8 billion funding gap between the signed Commonwealth agreements and the Turnbull plan in 2018 and 2019.

“The reality is that every public school from Mt Victoria to Lapstone is worse off under the Liberals, despite their repeated promises during the 2013 and 2016 elections to honour the Gonski funding agreements.”

But Liberal Senator for western Sydney, Marise Payne, said “there are no cuts to education in the government's plan”, describing the attack as “another pathetic attempt by Labor to continue to scare and mislead the community”.

“The new online estimator introduced by the Coalition government shows that schools in the Blue Mountains (Macquarie) would benefit from a funding increase of $18.9 million in needs-based funding between 2017 and 2021,” Senator Payne said.  

Under the online calculator, over the next decade, Blaxland High School will receive an additional $8.3 million, Winmalee High School an increase of $7.2 million, Hazelbrook Public School an additional $2.8 million and Springwood Public School will receive a boost of $2.8 million.

“The numbers Susan Templeman and Trish Doyle are quoting relate to a deal that was struck by the Gillard Government, that was never funded by them and that ended in the budget three years ago,” Senator Payne said.  

“We’ve used the best data sets available in Australia to develop our funding plan, unlike some of our critics who seem to be doing their calculations on the back of an envelope.”

- with SMH