The federal government will go back to the drawing board on schools funding from 2015 after finding what it says is a $1.2 billion shortfall in Labor’s scheme.
Before the election the Labor government signed NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, as well as independent and Catholic schools, up to a new funding model based on student needs.
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory held out on signing deals.
Then opposition leader, Tony Abbott declared he and then prime minister Kevin Rudd were on a “unity ticket” when it came to schools funding, promising the same amount of money but without the “strings” attached by Labor.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Tuesday the government would guarantee schools funding for the signatory states for the 2014 school year and would work with the others on their funding.
However, Mr Pyne said a new system – based on the Howard coalition government scheme – would be negotiated before the start of the 2015 school year.
Initial talks on the new scheme, which would not commit states to a specific share of their own funding for schools, will be held on Friday.
Mr Pyne said he had been advised by Treasury of a $1.2 billion cut in funding outlined in the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook after monies were shifted back to consolidated revenue.
“The implications for the new schools funding model are that the funding envelope is now $1.6 billion as opposed to $2.8 billion that Labor promised in the budget last year,” Mr Pyne told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“The cupboard is very bare.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says it’s a broken election promise.
“This is a very nasty surprise,” Mr Shorten said.
Mr Pyne said the new schools funding system, which would not be subject to a fresh Gonski-style review, would be “flatter, fairer and simpler”.
He denied the coalition was breaking an election promise.
“We said that we would have the same funding envelope and we will,” he said.
Mr Abbott said in July: “We can guarantee that no school will be worse off under us.”
Mr Shorten said comments like that weren’t promises and were “designed to shut down a damaging political debate”.
“It is now time for Mr Pyne to rule out that any schools would be worse off,” Mr Shorten said.
Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said the issue is a test of Mr Abbott’s trustworthiness.
“He’s now essentially going back to the old scheme of the Howard years which led to huge levels of disadvantage in public education, and where those schools who already lots got more, and those who had nothing, got very little,” she said.
Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos says Friday’s meeting of the Ministerial Council for Education is a chance for state and territories to ensure funding isn’t cut.
“Mr Pyne has manufactured a crisis to suit the government’s needs,” Mr Gavrielatos said.
“Education ministers must make clear on Friday that the Gonski agreements must be honoured in full, and the laws kept in place.”