ACT Budget: A mixed outcome

The ACT government handed down its budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year on 5 June. Council has been involved in the budget process by providing submissions to Treasury along with submitting our concerns directly to the government.

In our submission to Treasury, Council called on the government to:

  • Promote ACT public schools and parents' contribution to them through an advertising and public relations campaign.
  • Increase the number of specialist literacy and numeracy teachers and coordinators employed in ACT schools including secondary colleges.
  • Provide effective and adequate IT support to ACT schools to help with digitising the classroom.
  • Provide additional support and services for students with disabilities and students for whom English is an additional language or dialect.
  • Enable ETD to help with the management of school canteens where school P&Cs are unable and/or unwilling.
  • Ensure public schools and ETD are able to undertake the necessary survey of students to ensure ACTION bus routes are planned appropriately.
  • Enable ETD to establish a dedicated sustainability position in the curriculum section.

Increase in capital works projects

The budget saw $112m dedicated to public school infrastructure. This money will go towards expanding Duffy Primary, rebuilding Taylor Primary School, and building the new Bonner Primary and Franklin Early Childhood Learning Centre.

Literacy and Numeracy

Council feels the budget missed an opportunity to provide additional funding to high needs students. ETD indicated that literacy and numeracy in ACT school children was amongst its top priorities.

Under the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership agreement, ETD was able to employ 21 literacy and numeracy officers. However, these officers were focused only in primary and high schools.

Council feels there is a strong case to increase the number of these officers and extend them to colleges. The transition from high school to college means students struggling with literacy and numeracy lose a range of resources, which can disadvantage them in their penultimate and final years of schooling when they need these resources the most. However, without additional funds such support cannot be provided.

The funding provided for the literacy and numeracy officers is not ongoing. Because of this and the significant role the specialists have played in our schools, Council feels it is important that the government looks to continue the funding beyond the cut off dates in the coming year.

IT support for school

Council’s submission called on the government to provide adequate IT support to each school.

Digitising the classrooms in our schools offers many benefits for students, but if the implementation and ongoing maintenance of IT is handled poorly it can end up having a detrimental effect on a student’s learning.

In the budget the ACT government missed an important opportunity to get on top of this problem by implementing and funding strategies that would see adequate IT support provided to all ACT public schools. This would allow teachers to focus on teaching and not deal with IT issues.

More progress has now been made on this issue with public schools accessing IT funding under the ACT Government's Smart School, Smart Student program.

Funding for EALD Students

In previous years the ACT budget increased the amount of funding for students for whom English was an additional language or dialect (EALD). However, since this increase in funding the maximum amount of time a student can spend in an Intensive English Centre has decreased and several professional development programs have ended along with the loss of an executive officer position at ETD.

In our submission Council called on the government to increase funding for EALD students to reverse these trends to ensure that these students receive the support they require. Council would also like to see changes in the funding model so that more EALD students who could benefit from extra funding receive it.

Funding for students with a disability

In our submission Council called upon the government to increase funding for students with a disability and in particular to provide increased funding to help students with disabilities transition to post school options. In this area Council is pleased to report that the government took some positive steps.

CIT will receive an additional $3.2m over four years to support their year 12 program which aims at strengthening the linkage between year 12 and vocational education with additional support being provided for students with a disability.

The budget also included $1.54m to help students with a disability get to school via special needs transport.

Even more development has occurred on this issue with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Council welcome's the quick action taken by Katy Gallagher MLA in signing up to the federal plan.

School Canteens

The budget failed to provide any immediate relief or support to P&Cs with struggling canteens.

Despite this, ETD have provided some relief for canteens in their new canteens policy and Council is currently working with ETD, Canteens ACT and other stakeholders to come up with new models P&Cs can use to run their canteens.

School Bus Networks

Council has had a long running commitment to the provision of effective school bus routes.

In our budget submission Council called upon the ACT government to provide additional funds to allow ETD to undertake a survey to ascertain students travel intentions to and from school with respect to school buses. This information would then be provided to ACTION to allow them to design new and appropriate school bus routes that would maximise student usage of the system.

The budget failed to provide any funds to enable ETD to carry out this survey. Despite this, through discussion with the Minister and ETD, Council remains hopeful that some form of survey can be established to provide relevant details to allow ACTION to better plan school bus routes.

Environmental sustainability

Sustainability and sustainable practices are becoming areas of considerable importance as we move through the 21st century. In many ways they will come to define present and future generations.

The significance of this area has been recognised in the national curriculum and is one of three cross curriculum priorities.

In our submission Council called on the government to support teachers in this area by providing professional development and establishing a central position at ETD that can provide additional support to teachers implementing this new area of the curriculum.

Whilst the budget failed to provide any direct support to teachers in this area, it did provide funds to help transform old schools into more environmentally friendly places to learn.

The budget allocated $3.5 million over 4 years as part of its carbon neutral school project. This project will see installation of high efficiency lighting and insulation, upgrades to improve heating efficiency along with replacing existing windows with thermal resistant glass and the construction of covered and secure bike sheds to encourage students to ride to school.

Earlier this year, federal funding for the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) was withdrawn. Council is pleased to see that the ACT Government has continued to fund the program. 

 

This article was published in ParentACTion 3.2012, September 2012.