Labor promises to backdate Gonski payments for Victoria if it wins election

If no deal made with state before election, Labor to backdate funds to start of 2019

Federal Labor has offered to backdate payments to Victorian schools if Daniel Andrews’s government fails to reach agreement with the Coalition before the next election and education funding is withheld.

While federal Labor provided support to its Victorian counterpart in a battle that could break the Coalition’s school funding model, the premier, Daniel Andrews, hinted his government might still find “common ground” with the federal government while still rejecting “a multi-year deal that shortchanges Victorian kids”.

The recently re-elected Victorian government is demanding that the education minister, Dan Tehan, increase the federal share of funding under the Gonski 2.0 model from 20% of the school resource standard for public schools to 25%.

In 2017 the Gonski 2.0 funding package passed federal parliament promising an extra $23.5bn over 10 years for schools, to which an extra $4.6bn for Catholic and independent schools was added in September, with nothing more for public schools.

Although the states – including the Coalition government in New South Wales – raised objections, all have now fallen into line except Queensland, where the education minister, Grace Grace, has indicated it is unlikely to hold out further, and Victoria, which is more stubborn in its opposition.

The federal government insists that the Education Act requires a new funding agreement to be in place by 31 December or it cannot make payments that amount to $150m for Victorian public schools in January and $1.55bn for its non-government schools in the first six months of the year.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, and the education minister, James Merlino, have cited departmental advice that payments can be made, and have insisted on the 25% share for public schools.

Because agreements with other states include no-disadvantage clauses, caving to Victoria’s demands could trigger additional payments totalling $25bn over a decade for state schools nationwide.

On Tuesday, Labor’s federal education spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, wrote to Andrews, accusing the Morrison government of “failing public schools”.

“The attempt to hold states and territories to ransom over unfair bilateral funding agreements is a further sign that Scott Morrison has the wrong priorities for our nation,” she said.

“The prime minister’s refusal to restore funding cut from public schools, while restoring funding cut from Catholic and independent schools, has caused more of the damaging division and uncertainty that has been a hallmark of the Liberal government since 2013.”

Plibersek said Labor had offered to increase Victoria’s schools funding to 22.2% of the SRS by 2022, an estimated improvement of $804m over three years.

If Victoria fails to reach an agreement before the federal election, “a federal Labor government would ensure that the entirety of the commonwealth’s contribution to Victorian schools for the 2019 school year” would be paid and “backdated to the start of the 2019 school year accordingly”, she said.

In October Labor pledged an extra $14bn for public education over 10 years.

The Council of Australian Governments is due to meet on Wednesday before a meeting of education ministers on Friday, both opportunities for states to raise the schools funding issue.

Andrews told Guardian Australia negotiations between Tehan and Merlino continued on Tuesday to try to reach a last-minute agreement on education funding.

“We are having some productive discussions, there may be some common ground we can find,” he said from the airport on his way to the Adelaide Coag meeting.

“It’s a very difficult dispute but it’s for all the right reasons. I’m not going to settle for kids in non-government schools getting funded at 100% and government schools funded at just 95%.

“I remain firmly of the view that we will not be signing up to a multi-year deal that short changes Victorian kids. We’re not going to be blackmailed to signing up to a dud deal.”

In a letter to Andrews on Monday, Morrison warned that failure to sign a deal would delay funding for Victorian schools.

“While the state government may be prepared to provide temporary funding to keep the doors open in state schools, failure to complete this agreement would needlessly put the financial position of many non-state schools at risk,” he said.

“The Victorian government would be singularly culpable for such an outcome.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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