The level of funding for public schools has been a point of contention for a long time. 

Academic results have been falling, inequality entrenching and teacher shortages growing.

Then on Wednesday it was announced the federal government had reached an in-principle agreement with Western Australia which they said would see the state’s public schools ‘fully funded’ by 2026.

It was quickly rejected by other states and territories, which want the Commonwealth to double its offer, setting up a political showdown.

Here’s what’s going on and what could happen next.

Why is this significant?

First, some background.

The Commonwealth has been negotiating a new school funding agreement with the states and territories, and the WA agreement was the first of eight that need to be struck by the end of the year.

It’s also worth flagging what ‘fully funded’ means.

In this context, it’s the amount set out by the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) — an estimate of how much funding a school needs to meet students’ needs. It was recommended by the Gonski review more than a decade ago.

The Coalition’s Gonski 2.0 reforms required states to fund public schools at 75 per cent of the SRS on top of the feds’ 20 per cent, leaving a 5 per cent gap.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare is negotiating new public school funding deals with the states and territories.(ABC News: Lara Stimpson)

Glenn Savage, an associate professor in education policy at the University of Melbourne, says it’s important to understand the SRS itself doesn’t fund schools directly.

“All the money … basically goes into a blender and then is redistributed to schools using a state-based model,” he says.

Mr Savage also says it’s not just about how much funding a state has, it’s also about what they do with it.

“We need to be really careful that money is being targeted towards things likely to make a positive difference and that money is being targeted to those who need it the most,” he says.

What’s in the WA agreement?

The Commonwealth has committed to boosting its share of public school funding in WA from 20 per cent of the SRS to 22.5 per cent. In financial terms, it’s an extra $777.4 million over five years.

That’s been agreed on the condition WA lifts its own spending on public schools by at least an equivalent amount. 

The funding has also been tied to reforms aimed at making sure teachers are given more resources and kids falling behind get targeted support.

Then there’s the ‘no worse off guarantee’.

That means if other jurisdictions negotiate a better deal with the Commonwealth, WA will also receive that.

Federal Education Minister Jason Clare hailed the “landmark” moment on Wednesday and reiterated his intent to “strike an agreement like this with every state and every territory across the country”.

Who’s saying what?

Other states and territories quickly rejected the proposed WA deal.

They want the feds’ SRS contribution doubled to 25 per cent in their jurisdictions to guarantee the 5 per cent funding gap we mentioned earlier is covered.

The ABC reached out to state and territory education ministers to get their thoughts.

Here’s what they had to say.


Prue Car (ABC News: Gavin Coote)

“Public schools have not been funded to the levels agreed upon when the Gonski funding deal was struck more than a decade ago,” state minister Prue Car said.

“State governments are facing unprecedented pressure to continue to provide world class services to a growing population, and as the largest state in the Commonwealth, NSW is no different.

“Our government has committed to reach 75 per cent of the SRS by 2025 — that’s two years earlier than the previous government’s target.

“It remains our view, and the view of most other states, that the Commonwealth provide the remaining 5 per cent to help fund our schools at an appropriate level into the future.”


Di Farmer(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

“We believe that the Commonwealth should fund 25 per cent of the [SRS] to help fund schools at an appropriate level into the future,” state minister Di Farmer said.

“Queensland schools and teachers provide some of the most geographically dispersed and remote learning anywhere in Australia.

“We will continue to collaborate on the policy and funding arrangements under the new national schools agreement from 2025, but we will always fight for Queensland’s fair share so that our kids can have the best start in life.

“We need our fair share so that school students can grow, learn and thrive no matter where they live.”

South Australia

Blair Boyer(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“All government schools in South Australia deserve to be fully and fairly funded. For too long this hasn’t been the case and we must fix that,” state minister Blair Boyer said.

“I have written to the federal minister for education seeking the Commonwealth increase its funding share to 25 per cent, addressing the current funding gap public schools face.

“I have also raised the importance of school infrastructure funding in the next agreement. Too many schools are in need of upgrades to give students the learning environments they deserve.”


Roger Jaensch(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“The Tasmanian government is calling on the federal government to increase its contribution of the SRS by 5 per cent to ensure Tasmanian public schools are funded to 100 per cent of the allocation recommended by the Gonski review,” state minister Roger Jaensch said.
“The Tasmanian government is committed to working collaboratively with the Australian government and in conjunction with other states and territories through 2024 towards the shared goal of providing a quality, equitable education for all students.”


Yvette Berry( ABC News: Toby Hunt )

“The ACT government fully funds public schools … at or above 100 per cent the SRS,” an ACT government spokesperson said.
“The ACT government appreciates the collaborative intent of the federal government in offering to lift its contribution to 22.5 per cent of the SRS. The ACT has joined other jurisdictions in asking the Commonwealth to increase their contribution to 25 per cent of the SRS for public schools.
“The ACT government will not reduce its share of SRS funding for public schools.”

Northern Territory

“I met with Minister Clare only two weeks ago, expressing the Territory government’s commitment to ensuring all students are fully funded right across the NT,” territory minister Mark Monaghan said.

“Minister Clare reinforced his understanding that our children have the highest level of need and disadvantage in the country and it must be addressed. 

“Currently, the Lawler and Albanese governments are progressing discussions on a new deal which will bring all of our schools, 70.2 per cent of which are classed as remote or extremely remote, to full funding.

“The Territory is the most expensive jurisdiction to deliver education by far due to our vast geographical challenges, however we are focused on providing quality education to students no matter where they live.”

A response from Victoria was not received by deadline.

The Australian Education Union also wants to see the Commonwealth lift its share of the SRS to 25 per cent for the states and 40 per cent for the Northern Territory.

The federal opposition, however, has called on Mr Clare to get the states to chip in more.

What happens now? 

Negotiations continue.

Mr Savage says now “the starting gun has been fired” he expects “significant contestations” over the coming year.

He says Commonwealth agreements with other jurisdictions may be harder to reach than with WA, as it has been much closer to fully funding its public schools compared to others.

Whether other jurisdictions or states will be able, or want to, match any extra contributions like WA did remains to be seen as well.

“People shouldn’t get ahead of themselves with what’s being planned in WA.

“There’s a lot of water that needs to go under the bridge.”

What else do I need to know?

This all comes hot on the tail of an expert-led review into school resourcing released in December.

It made for a sobering read.

High school completion rates in public schools had fallen from 83 per cent to 76 per cent in six years, more than one in three students hadn’t been meeting NAPLAN literacy and numeracy proficiency standards, while school attendance and high school graduations had also been declining, the report said.

Almost all public schools had not been funded to the SRS, the review found. That’s compared to non-government schools being funded, on average, at or above their full government funding level.

Among other things, the review recommended fully funding all public schools to the SRS, for students to be regularly screened to see if they need additional support, and for teachers to be given more targeted support and mentoring.

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