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Estimates: School funding questions

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 20 Nov 2013

Education and Employment Legislation Committee 
Department of Education

20 November, 2013

Senator WRIGHT: First of all, can you identify please which schools were used as reference schools in order to construct the national schooling resource standards that the new school funding model under the Better Schools plan?

Mr Cook: There was 1,400 of those schools.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes. Can you direct me to them. Obviously, I do not want you to read out all of the names here. I would like to ascertain what they were.

Mr Cook: We will certainly take that on notice. There is no public document that exists, but we will certainly take it on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: No, but I do want to know who they were. If I can go now to Victorian funding under the Better Schools plan. First of all, how much money will the department provide to Victoria's public, Catholic and independent sectors respectively for 2014 under the Better Schools plan?

Ms Paul: I suspect that we probably have already taken it on notice for Senator O'Neill. There was a range of funding questions. We are currently, as Mr Cook described before and he can do so again, going through the process of updating according to enrolments against the various loadings and so on. So we are right in that process now. So will take it on notice and get that you.

Senator WRIGHT: I will just go through them, in case you have not already been asked these. I was actually in another committee so I did not hear them. Does the department have information and assurances from the Victorian government about how much money it will provide to each sector in 2014 under the plan?

Mr Cook: In terms of the previous government, there was an agreement with the Victorian government that was made with the previous government. It was in relation to 2014, certainly. It would be similar to the response that Ms Paul gave. They would be updating their own state-based data with enrolment data in those particular demographics to enable them to actually provide the advice to both the non-government sector and the government sector in their state in relation to state funding.

Senator WRIGHT: I am not sure then what that really means in terms of the answer to my question. I am just trying to work that out. Is it not clear at this stage? You say that there was a previous agreement, so is that going to be honoured in terms of the current government or are you suggesting that that is up for renegotiation?

Mr Cook: In terms of the Commonwealth government, the Commonwealth government has been very clear that for 2014 it will match the agreements that were made by the previous government—whether the state or territory had signed up to the previous government's requirements or not.

Senator WRIGHT: This question is about what the Victorian government will provide to each sector in 2014 under the plan.

Mr Cook: That would be a matter for the Victorian government.

Senator WRIGHT: So I have asked whether the Commonwealth government—the federal government, your department—has information and assurances from the Victorian government about how much money it will provide. Are you saying that that has not yet been confirmed or determined?

Mr Cook: Again, like with all state governments, they are calculating what their funding would be based on the latest information they have got available to them, particularly around enrolment data.

Senator WRIGHT: Has the Victorian government provided an implementation plan under its Better Schools agreement which is satisfactory to the department at this stage?

Mr Cook: I do not believe the Victorian government has provided an implementation plan at this stage.

Senator WRIGHT: Is that a sure answer or would you need to check?

Mr Cook: Yes, I am sure.

Senator WRIGHT: They have not, then. Are there any other states or territories who have signed up for the Better Schools plan who have not provided a satisfactory implementation plan to the department?

Ms Paul: The Better Schools plan is the former government's policy, so really the question that is probably more relevant now with the new government is to say who did and who did not deliver an implementation plan. We can take that on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: I am asking who has not. Also, I am asking about satisfactory implementation plans, because they may have delivered one that is not considered to be satisfactory by the department.

Ms Paul: Yes, we will take that on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: Does the department have information and assurances from the Victorian government about whether the funds that they will be contributing will be distributed according to loadings for socioeconomic metrics and Indigenous status at this stage?

Mr T Cook: The work with the previous government looked at the Victorian government funding model and, yes, their funding model did have loadings—if you want to use that word—in relation to socioeconomic and also Indigenous.

Senator WRIGHT: That was their previous funding model?

Mr T Cook: That was the funding model they continue to use. I do not think they have changed their funding model.

Ms Paul: They are still using it.

Senator WRIGHT: So you are assuming that it will be.

Ms Paul: Yes, we have not been advised they have made any changes.

Mr T Cook: It is their SRP—their student resource package, I think it is called.

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested to know what negotiations have occurred between your department and the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory in relation to an agreement under the—I am not sure what to call it now. I will keep referring to it as the Better Schools Plan, but I appreciate that it is not necessarily called that anymore. It is essentially the ongoing matching that this government is doing. So, what negotiations have occurred between the department and the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory in relation to an agreement under the Better Schools Plan or under an alternative arrangement?

Mr T Cook: We have not had formal negotiations as such from a department perspective. The information that we have conveyed, which, of course, the Northern Territory, WA and Queensland would be aware of, is what the government has committed to, which is that the 2014 funding that those states or territories will receive will be the same that was offered by the previous government even though they may not have signed up to the previous government's conditions or requirements.

Senator WRIGHT: The Northern Territory minister and the Queensland education minister have advised media representatives that the Commonwealth has offered funding over the forward estimates without conditions. Is the department aware of those statements and has the minister instructed the department in relation to this issue?

Mr T Cook: We are aware of what we read in the media and we also are aware that the minister had met with the Northern Territory and Queensland ministers, but we have no instruction at this point in relation to those meetings.

Senator WRIGHT: Can the department indicate what you would estimate that Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia would have received over the forward estimates respectively if they had signed an agreement with the Commonwealth under the Better Schools Plan?

Ms Paul: We have been saying that the government's commitment is clear going into 2014 to match the funding, regardless of whether a state signed the National Education Reform Agreement, so we have basically said in evidence to Senator O'Neill that it would be the same, but we have also taken on notice to set that out in dollar terms.

Senator WRIGHT: So essentially you are saying that what the government will pay now is what they would have received previously?

Mr T Cook: In 2014, that is correct.

Ms Paul: Yes. Going into 2014, the commitment is to match the funding—so the funding envelope of this government is the same funding envelope of the former government.

Senator WRIGHT: If the jurisdictions were to sign up to the Better Schools Plan or its current equivalent, how would the department fund those arrangements?

Ms Paul: We went through that with Senator O'Neill as well.

Senator WRIGHT: Again I apologise, but I was not here.

Ms Paul: No, that is fine—that was just to point you towards evidence given before.

Senator WRIGHT: If you are sure that it is the same question I am happy to look at the answers.

Ms Paul: That is okay. In short, Mr Cook earlier indicated that we are using the same payment regime that we always have, basically, which is a payment every month for states, and a slightly different one for non-government schools. We can go through that, but the payment rates are spelt out.

Senator WRIGHT: This question may have been put to you. If any of the jurisdictions which are currently not signatories do sign up to the Better Schools Plan but their agreements lack the conditions that are in the existing agreements, what are the implications for the existing agreements?

Mr T Cook: The Better Schools Plan is the previous government's initiative, so there would not be—

Ms Paul: There would not be implications for the other ones.

Senator WRIGHT: I do not know if you have had any legal advice. Given that the understanding was that some of the states that originally signed up said they would not be any worse off and yet, arguably, they have signed up to conditions that in this scenario later signatories will not have, have you had any legal advice about the potential implications of that?

Mr T Cook: I think you might be referring to the no disadvantage clause, which had a focus on financial disadvantage, and, because the government is matching the previous government's offer in relation to that, it would be my view there is no financial disadvantage.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you.


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