Broken promise hurts students

disability_funding.jpgSchools will start 2016 with no extra resources for their students disability, after the Turnbull Government failed to keep its promise to lift disability funding to match student need.

Properly resourcing schools for disability is a key part of the Gonski reforms and this broken promise will leave 270,000 students without the support they need next year - more than half the total number of students with disability.

The decision is doubly disappointing because Federal and State Governments have now been presented with the latest data which shows that less of half  of students with disability who need funded support at school actually receive it.

Schools have been waiting for the extra funding since the 2013 election, when the Coalition promised that it would extend Gonski funding to all students with disability who needed it through an increased “disability loading” based on real need in schools.

Data from the Federal Government’s 2015 Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on disability shows that 18 per cent of students have some kind of disability.

The majority of these, making up 12.5 per cent of all students, need “supplementary, substantial or extensive” support at school.

This would amount to 467,842 students needing some kind of extra support at school – far more than the 190,887 that the Productivity Commission found received funded support at school in 2013.

School Budgets Stretched

It’s no wonder that schools are struggling to find resources to meet the needs of all students with disability, and are being forced to stretch their budgets to offer even basic support.

Students with disability have the right to an education and schools need to be properly-resourced so they can make the adjustments that these students need to benefit from education and being part of a school community.

These can include in-class support, equipment or special programs and individualised curriculums, all things that can make a big difference but take money and time to provide.

The AEU’s State of Our Schools survey earlier this year found that 79 per cent of principals say they do not have enough funding for the needs of children with disability at their school and 84 per cent say they have had to shift funds from other parts of school budgets to students with disability.

Here’s how one principal – of many – described the situation at her school.

“We have about 100 students who require intensive specialist support, about 20 per cent of our total, as well as others who need some level of support. There are a lot of students who fall just outside the cut off for funded support, and so get nothing. That’s ridiculous, because students don’t go from being high-needs to having no needs, they still require some assistance.  We have a major issue with getting students verified, which means delays in receiving support so we have to fund them out of our general budget.” - Rebecca Hack, Berserker Street PS, Rockhampton.

There are some schools who are already using their Gonski funding to offer extra support and new programs for students with disability, and will do more as the full six years of Gonski are rolled out.

But this is still not enough funding to meet the needs of all students with disability and why we need the Federal Government to deliver on the promised funding.

Funding increase promise broken twice

Increased funding was originally meant to be delivered to schools in 2015 but was delayed after then Education Minister Christopher Pyne blamed States for failing to provide the data

The promised start date was then shifted to 2016, with the Government repeatedly assuring schools the funding would be delivered.

Former Education Minister Christopher Pyne said in June this year that, from 2016:

“Every child in Australia with disability will be able to receive the correct loading, as they should, to match their disability”

As recently as October 23, 2015, Minister Birmingham promised that a new loading based on the NCCD data would be introduced in 2016.

That makes it hugely concerning that the Federal Government now cannot give a start date for increased funding, or explain how the new system will work.

The Federal Government has claimed it is spending record amounts on disability funding – but that is only due to inflation and increases in student numbers.

The only extra funding schools received in 2015 was another year of the interim loading (indexed for inflation), which was only meant to be a temporary measure -  a  flat amount per student based on  the existing inadequate support provided by governments.

This did nothing to address the huge unmet need in the education system and it now appears that this is all schools will get for 2016.

Turnbull Government must act

Funding delayed is funding denied to some of our most vulnerable students.

The Turnbull Government has not refused outright to provide the extra funding, but it has refused to commit to when and how the funding is to be delivered.

We need to let them know that this issue is crucial for schools, and that we cannot afford to wait to give students with disability the education they deserve.

Educating students with disability to reach their potential is an investment. It equips them for work, further education and an independent life.

To deny students with disability the chance to reach their potential by failing to properly fund their education is a breach of their rights, and sells out the future of Australia.

We need to keep fighting to hold the Federal Government to account and make it keep its promise to give schools the resources they need for students with disability.

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