This column was published in the NT Sun Newspaper on May 28 2019 under the title Funds vital to schools.
Shifting the goalposts on funding priorities has provided for an infrastructural surfeit, but not necessarily the enhancement of teaching and learning program within those brand new facilities.
There have been some major shifts in educational funding priorities for education in the past decade.
The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 changed the way school funding was prioritised. Prior to 2008 it was extraordinarily difficult to attract money for school capital works programs. Principals and school councils were often frustrated by the delays in gaining initial approval. There was real competition between schools for this funding. Works if approved, were often years away, buried in treasury’s forward estimates.
Minor New Works programs for infrastructure projects up to $250,000 were similarly queued for lengthy periods of time.
The GFC consigned this scenario to history. In order to stimulate building and construction, the Federal Government created the Building Education Revolution (BER).
Many billions of dollars were released to state and territory educational systems. ‘Build, build build, like there is no tomorrow’ became the order of the day.
Along with all educational authorities, the NT Education Department was overwhelmed with BER money. Funds were allocated for major construction in every Northern Territory school.
Although the BER is now history, it has given rise to a significant shift in funding priorities for NT schools. Compared with pre BER days, it seems that limitations on capital and minor new works funding have been totally relaxed.
Government tenders in the NT News each Wednesday confirm that money is being continually allocated for infrastructural works of all kinds. Included is funding for playground equipment, shade structures, irrigation upgrades and other works that were rarely funded in past times.
Previously, it had been up to school communities to fundraise for these improvements. Election days became times when nearly every school held a sausage sizzle or set up a fundraising food or drinks stall. Money raised was tagged for school projects. During the May 18 election, only 30% of NT schools operating as polling centres, held fundraising activities.
These fundraising events also build school and community togetherness, a relationship that should always be promoted.
Schools do not want for funds to support building, construction, environmental upgrades and ground improvements. However, there is a need for funding to recognise and support teaching and learning programs in classrooms. The ‘heart’ of the school is the teaching/learning interface. Buildings and facilities are necessary. However they should not be prioritised to the detriment of core learning needs or reduction in staffing levels for the sake of enhancing building and construction budgets.
While facilities are necessary, the support of students through classroom programs must not be compromised.