COVID-recovery budget needs to invest in public education, says union

The Australian Education Union has called on the federal government to invest heavily in public schools, preschools and TAFE in its coronavirus recovery budget.

In a pre-budget submission to treasury, the union said a funding boost to public education would have ongoing economic benefits but would also support future generations and address social inequality.

The federal government is being urged to better fund public education for post-coronavirus recovery. Credit:Paul Harris

"2020 has been an extraordinary year with COVID-19 and its impact on education in particular, and in terms of economic stimulus that requires an extraordinary response," Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe said.

The union's recommendations include lifting the 20 per cent cap on Commonwealth contributions to public schools and funding, implementing a program of capital works including maintenance projects and building new schools, restoring funding cut from TAFE and guaranteeing funds for preschool for three and four-year-olds.

"This will not only be giving children a strong future, if the government invests in capital works that means deep stimulus for the manufacturing and construction industries which is what we need too," Ms Haythorpe said.

In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said boosting economic growth would be vital to restoring the nation's finances.

"Our budget will be balanced again by keeping expenditures under control while boosting revenues through pro-growth policies that lift investment and get Australians back into jobs, just like we did last time," he said.

In 2019, the union accused the Morrison government's budget of lacking fairness and neglecting public education.

"Unfortunately their past record in terms of investing in public education has been grim and now is the time to address that," Ms Haythorpe said.

As the coronavirus recession hits, enrolments in state and Catholic schools are tipped to boom.

“Once JobKeeper [wage subsidy] and school discounts dry up, this will most likely lead to a number of parents not pursuing high-fee private primary schools,” education consultant Paul O’Shannassy said.

Ms Haythorpe said this was another reason to improve funding for the public sector.

"We'll see increased enrolment growth in the public system over the next few years," she said.

"If they [the government] don't address it unfortunately that will entrench deep inequality within Australia and it will reduce options for our students."

Monash University education academic Dr Bronwyn Cumbo said a well-funded public education system was an equaliser.

"Through the COVID-19 crisis we've seen the amplification of inequalities in education," she said.

"It's a time to remember the basic principles that quality education should be available to all students."

Dr Daniela Acquaro, of the University of Melbourne, said her research into the impact of the coronavirus disruption on Australian schools had revealed some clear gaps.

"We did notice government schools really were less resourced than others, that's something that comes out in our research," she said.

"One of the things we're seeing is the real need for more professional development and all of that needs resourcing and schools don't have enough money to do that, especially government schools."

The federal budget, which was delayed by the pandemic, is due to be handed down in October.

Sign up to our Coronavirus Update newsletter

Get our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the day’s crucial developments at a glance, the numbers you need to know and what our readers are saying. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here and The Age’s here.

Most Viewed in National

Source: Read Full Article