EDUCATION FUNDING SHOULD BE BALANCED
Over the years, “steady state” advancement and predictability have not been hallmarks of education. Nowhere is this better illustrated then in respect of providing physical facilities.
Prior to 2000, it was extremely difficult to obtain capital works money for major school improvements. Budgets were limited and competition for building programs quite fierce. Rejection and deferments of funding submissions were common and approvals rare. It was not unusual for a program costed at say $4 million, to be funded to a level of $2 or $3 million without the full amount being approved.
Applications for Minor New Works had no guarantee of being approved. Repairs and maintenance money carried qualifications and could not be used for everything that needed fixing. In total, the amount of money available for capital needs was strictly rationed.
This all changed when the Gillard Government introduced the ‘Building Educational Revolution’ to support and upgrade school infrastructure. From that point in time onward money has been poured at schools, but with the proviso that it be used for construction of physical facilities.
In the NT, Gonski funding came unattached to requirements that it be spent on classroom focussed programs. This allowed the NT Government to use the money for capital works. Henbury Avenue and Bellamack Special Schools were constructed using this money, while Acacia Hills (Alice Springs) was significantly upgraded.
Weekly reading of tender invitations in the ‘NT News’ confirms bountiful dollars still being found to support the extension of school infrastructure
Most recently, the Northern Territory Government has promised $300,000 to each Northern Territory school. However that money has to be used for physical upgrades and capital expansion.
There needs to be more to education expenditure then supporting the construction industry. While good physical facilities are necessary, so to are programs that best support students and staff in teaching learning situations.
It’s ironic to consider that schools have to constantly and minutely scrutinise internal budget management for the sake of teaching and learning. If the recent $300,000 per school allocation could be used to support these programs, that may have been a wise investment. It is the way in which students are educated now that will translate toward the future of our Northern Territory.
Educational expenditure needs to be balanced. Facilities are important, but teaching and learning programs are really what education is about.