Because we are not spending $1.6 billion on a Tram, we can afford to significantly increase funding and support for our education system, especially for children with more complex needs.
After Health, Education is the largest investment the ACT Government makes. We have schools delivering great results and we have dedicated teachers.
However, in too many schools teachers and students work in overcrowded classrooms, in buildings that are in need of renovation; in schools that need proper heating and cooling systems or lack safe electrical equipment. Over the past four years there have been too many fires in school switchboards, gas leaks and schools being evacuated because of equipment failures.
In the 2012 election, the ACT Labor government promised a $70 million fund to upgrade and maintain our older schools. Four years on, there is little evidence this has been delivered.
We believe it is important that our schools are well maintained and that students and staff work in comfortable, safe classrooms in schools with appropriate space for music and language, craft and science lessons. It is especially important that children complex needs get appropriate systems, resources and support.
We will increase education expenditure to address the areas of greatest need.
The following is just part of the extra Education portfolio support a Canberra Liberals government will provide.
Capital investment and maintenance.
We support existing expenditure in education but it simply does not go far enough.
After closing 23 schools, Andrew Barr has let the remaining schools fall behind in capital upgrades and maintenance. Over the past four years there have been four fires in school switchboards, gas leaks and schools being evacuated because of equipment failures.
Mt Stromlo School has been promised a new roof in two budgets and it has still not been delivered.
There are schools like Garran Primary which has had 37 students in one classroom, no spare classrooms and more students than capacity limits allow. There is nothing in the budget for them and they are dealing with massive overcrowding in their classrooms, no breakout rooms are left and the footpath has been the subject of requests for repair for some years.
In the election year budget only $14.5m is allocated for upgrades, including for ongoing works or for projects promised and not delivered.
School infrastructure and maintenance is an area that has needed more support for some time, and the Canberra Liberals will provide that support.
Support for children with special and complex needs in non-government schools
The discovery of a boy in a cage in an ACT school was reported around the world. The ACT Labor Government’s response was to ask Professor Shaddock to look at all our schools and advise what needed to be done to address the challenging needs and complex behaviours of students in our schools.
At the time of the report’s release, the Government was quick to endorse all 50 recommendations and promised an immediate injection of $7 million to address the most urgent issues. Seven months on little progress has been made.
The $21 million in this year’s budget is welcome but, it is extremely disappointing that ACT Labor has chosen to exclude non-government schools on such an important issue.
This need was reflected in the Shaddock Review, which made the following recommendation:
The Panel believes that the issue of ‘perceived disparity’ remains an unnecessary, ongoing, contentious and sometimes divisive one in parts of the ACT community. The Panel urges the ACT Government and the non-government sector to work together to promote greater school and community understanding of the regulations of the needs-based SRS model, in regard to additional funding for students with a disability.
When the latest ACT Budget was released with increased funding to help implement the Shaddock recommendations, the complete lack of funding for children in non-government schools was criticised, as follows:
“It is disturbing to note that, while Independent Schools were heavily involved in both the consultation and development of the report, are referenced in the Recommendations from the Report, and are working towards appropriate implementation of those recommendations, none of the $21.5 million in funding was provided to Independent Schools,” Executive Director of AISACT, Andrew Wrigley.
The Canberra Liberals will provide more money to support children with disabilities and complex needs across all of Canberra.
The four special schools in the ACT face on-going and very significant challenges. From a need for expensive specialised equipment, to shortfalls in important programs such as holiday care, respite, or after-hours programs, they lack the financial assistance to provide the best service they can.
The Canberra Liberals will offer more support for our most special schools.
THE CANBERRA LIBERALS SOLUTION
The Canberra Liberals will deliver an $85 million package that delivers for all children, in all schools, all across Canberra.
The package comprises three elements.
$60 million in extra support for all government schools
After closing 23 schools, Andrew Barr has let the remaining schools fall behind in capital upgrades and maintenance.
The Canberra Liberals will provide $60 million to give our schools and classrooms the very best services and facilities. This is in addition to any announced expenditure already in the budget.
This funding can be used for new capital works and much needed maintenance and upgrades. This can be used for the immediate provision of transportable classrooms for schools urgently in need of more room; for heating and cooling systems in our older schools that currently are not well insulated against the extremes of Canberra weather; for safer playgrounds; for upgrades of toilets and canteens; to repair leaking roofs; to upgrade electric switchboards – many of which have caught on fire in recent years; to remove asbestos sheeting that is still present in many of our schools; for upgraded fit outs – as well as new classrooms; refurbishment of staff facilities; new play equipment; garden and horticulture facilities.
$17.5 million to support students with special needs in non-government schools
As a starting point, the Canberra Liberals will provide $5 million per year to support children with special needs in our non government schools. This will help meet the individual learning needs of those children and will go some way to assist in the implementation of the recommendations of the Shaddock review across all Canberra schools. We will work closely with the Catholic and Independent schools across the ACT to implement this new funding.
$7.5 million support for our specialised schools
The Canberra Liberals will provide a $1 million grant for each of the four special schools to provide capital upgrade and equipment purchases. This can be used for specialised infrastructure based on the needs of the school and the children in it.
In addition, an extra $1 million per year will be provided in recurrent expenditure to allow the special programs to hire additional resources and run additional programs.