Schools funding stoush looms


Schools funding, vocational education reforms and a high court ruling on the school chaplaincy program are hot issues in education for 2012.

A nasty stoush over school funding looms with the imminent release of the Gonski review and the federal government's response.

The review has taken 18 months to complete and received some 7000 submissions.

While Schools Minister Peter Garrett repeatedly has assured schools not one dollar per student would be lost - saying so even before he received the review's recommendations - the final outcome is likely to please no one.

Those on the public schools side, most prominently Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos, usually argue no government funds should be going to the private sector.

But the other side says the government has a responsibility to support every taxpayer's child's education, even if they choose to send their kids to a non-government school.

Almost everyone agrees that the current system must change, not least to make it more transparent.

A widely recommended solution is to have a single funding body in each jurisdiction to dole out the money from both state and federal levels.

This would give clarity as to how much money each school actually receives and hopefully put an end to selective quoting of funding percentages to support different arguments.

Mr Garrett is expected to release the report later in February.

The government will then consult with stakeholders, including state and territory governments, schools systems and anyone with a special interest in education.

The next battlefield with the states and territories is in vocational education.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has flagged her desire to introduce HECS-style loans for diplomas and advanced diplomas.

She is expected to take a proposal to the premiers at the March Council of Australian Governments meeting.

A similar scheme has run in Victoria since 2008.

Critics such as the Australian Greens say it has subsidised private providers who are not necessarily turning out students trained in needed areas.

Industry Minister Greg Combet has said the national program would be carefully targeted at certain areas to make sure particular skills shortages were met.

The High Court could throw another dodgeball when it rules on a Queensland father's challenge to the school chaplaincy program.

Ron Williams objects to the program as unconstitutional because it imposes a religious test on commonwealth officers, the court heard in August.

Since then, the government has modified the scheme so schools can choose to hire secular youth workers or religious chaplains.

However, the ruling could be more wide-ranging because the six states intervened to argue the commonwealth does not have the power to directly fund the program.

They said the funds should be funnelled through the state bureaucracies and not given directly to chaplaincy providers.

If the court agrees, it could have implications for many government programs.

Senate estimates hearings will take evidence from the education department and parliamentary schools education secretary Jacinta Collins on February 16.

Topics for discussion are likely to include the computers in schools program - which Opposition leader Tony Abbott has said he would scrap in government - and the national curriculum.

Source: AAP