Budget 2019: little new for schools, beyond window dressing

by Peter Goss

Published at The Conversation, Tuesday 2 April

The education announcements in the budget showed no substantial change in policy.

Yes, $300 billion is the biggest ever spend on recurrent school funding (a 63% increase, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said). But with rapidly growing student numbers and the cost of wages going up each year, that doesn’t mean much. And it appears to be exactly what is in the National School Reform Agreement, which was signed between the federal government and all states and territories at the end of 2018.

Another one year extension on funding for early childhood education should be taken at face value: the Coalition says it values early learning but doesn’t yet have a long-term plan.

The remaining initiatives are window-dressing; and like most window-dressing, they don’t change anything fundamental but cost money that could have been used elsewhere.

The Treasurer said “no one knows the needs of a local school better than the school community itself”. This is true but $30 million for libraries, classrooms and play equipment won’t go far. It will also create red tape and duplicate state initiatives, and is very much the type of funding the Commonwealth should stay away from.

One-off funding for infrastructure also has an opportunity cost: $30 million on better evaluation of existing initiatives would have made a real contribution to efforts to improve teaching and learning at the system level.

The remaining initiatives – including arts, life education, preventative health and the constitution – smack of the Commonwealth meddling in areas beyond its remit.

Given the Commonwealth doesn’t run schools, is there anything useful it could have announced in the budget? Here are two ideas. The government has promised a national evidence institute, but has not yet announced the dollars behind it.

And it could have chosen to invest in how best to assess the non-cognitive skills that are important for the workforce, but which are currently hard to measure.

The Conversation