THE federal government has moved to diffuse tensions over school funding by agreeing to negotiate separately with each state over what school improvements would be required to receive additional money.
Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said he was assured not all states would be judged in the same way and that the Commonwealth would acknowledge some had school improvement reforms already in place.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard sparked anger among Liberal premiers on Monday when she said the government accepted that the cost of reforming the school system would be about $6.5 billion, but declined to say how much the states and territories should pay.
She said there would be ”no blank cheques” for the states, and any new funding would be contingent on principals having more autonomy, every school having a school improvement plan and teachers having annual performance assessments.
Victoria already has annual teacher performance reviews and principals have been able to select their own teachers and decide how their budgets are spent for 15 years.
Mr Dixon said he was relieved to learn at a phone hook-up of education ministers yesterday that the school improvement reforms would be negotiated on a state-by-state basis. ”I was pleased there was that recognition we are all at different points and have different goals,” he said.
”We didn’t want a whole new model of teacher performance reviews, cooked up nationally with a whole lot of compromises enforced on each state and territory.”
It was the first time all education ministers have spoken for more than a month.
Mr Dixon was also pleased to learn the Commonwealth had rejected a recommendation by the Gonski review to establish an independent body to determine the level of funding for schools.
Victoria had been highly critical of the establishment of an extra layer of bureaucracy, saying school funding was a decision for state governments.
Mr Dixon said he felt the federal government had finally listened to Victoria’s concerns.
”Following today’s discussions I am more than prepared to move forward,” he said.
He said there had been no discussion about what proportion of the additional $6.5 billion a year the states would be required to chip in, but discussions with each jurisdiction would start within weeks.
The government wants to introduce a new funding model for government, independent and Catholic schools that provides each with a base funding rate, with extra loadings to address underlying causes of students’ disadvantage, such as low socio-economic status or Aboriginality.
The committee will try to reach agreement on how those loadings should apply, and how high they should be.
The states agreed to form a school education reform committee, chaired by Western Australian Education Minister Peter Collier, to report to the Council of Australian Governments in March. The committee will meet at least three times in the next six months.
Dianne Giblin, the chief executive officer of the Australian Council of State School Organisations yesterday urged the governments to work constructively to agree on a new funding model.
”We as a nation owe it to our kids for the states and territories to come to an agreement with the federal government.”
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