The 2016-17 Victorian Budget has prioritised investment in education, with substantial infrastructure funding provided to build and upgrade schools, provide Tech Schools and support early childhood and care services. Positive investment is also made in vocational and workplace learning initiatives, a shared facilities fund to support community hubs, and delivering on their election commitment to provide a doctors in schools program to support the healthcare of disadvantaged students.
This budget builds on a strong education budget in 2015-16 which included $1.4b over four years for the Gonski School Funding Agreement, providing a large increase in equity funding and support to schools and students facing disadvantage. The Government has now announced how $644.4m of this Gonski school funding will be spent in the 2017 school year. VCOSS is pleased to see education support for refugees and asylum seeker students and investment in English as an Additional Language services.
Access to high quality education is key to breaking cycles of poverty and disadvantage and VCOSS congratulates the government on the significant investment in education. VCOSS look forward to working with government to build on these initiatives and improve participation in high quality, affordable early learning services, particularly for vulnerable children, and to reform the Program for Students with Disability (PSD) which requires a fundamental changes so that all children with additional health and development needs are well-supported.
“The budget includes positive announcements around jobs and training, education, early childhood development and health,” VCOSS CEO Emma King said.
Initiatives at a glance
- $4.4m over four years, to maintain the financial viability of small rural kindergartens across Victoria, with $1.1m in 2016-17.
- $10m over two years to support new early childhood education and care infrastructure in growth suburbs, with $5m in 2016-17 – welcome investment to meet demand.
- $3.9m over four years (commencing in 2015-16) for the National Occasional Care Programme, with $1m in 2016-17 – to help provide access to flexible childcare, particularly for families in rural and regional areas.
- $25.8m over four years for the doctors in schools program, with $2.9m in 2016-17. An additional $18m is provided in capital funding to construct purpose build consultation rooms. This initiative will improve primary healthcare for students in up to 100 of Victoria’s most disadvantaged schools.
- $21.3m over four years for vocational and workplace learning initiatives, with $6m in 2016-17. This funding will support students engage in vocational learning through access to structured workplace learning placements and Trade Training Centres in schools.
- $116.1m over four years for the Tech Schools Program – to build and operate 10 Tech Schools in Gippsland, Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Monash, Casey, Wydham, Banyule, Yarra Ranges and Whittlesea. These Tech Schools will be open to secondary students from across these regions and will be hosted by universities and TAFEs.
- $50m in capital funding for a shared facilities fund in 2016-17– to build community hubs in schools in growth suburbs. It will involve partnerships between schools, local government and other parties and will be jointly managed to benefit communities. VCOSS called for integrated service models that holistic support for vulnerable children and families.
- $10m in capital funding to extend the inclusive schools fund, with $3m in 2016-17 – to provide more school with inclusive facilities for students with disabilities.
- Infrastructure funding to build and restore school facilities, including:* $185.4m in capital funding to build new schools over four years and $102m in land acquisition over two years
* $151.1m to upgrade 39 rural and regional schools over four years
* $196m to upgrade metropolitan schools over four years
* $16m in a school pride and sports fund over three years
* $63.6m to build portable classrooms to help address immediate need over two years, with funding commencing in 2015-16.
* $26.6m over four years for the establishment of a School Building Authority to manage and oversee this work, with $5m in 2016-17.
Future policy directions
- VCOSS welcomes investment in education infrastructure, including construction of new schools to help meet demand in growth areas and additional funds to help make schools more inclusive for students with disability.
- In future, VCOSS would like to see fundamental changes to the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD), moving away from a rigid, deficit-based funding model to a functional needs assessment. Under the current model too many students with additional health and development needs do not receive adequate support. The PSD supports around 4 per cent of the student population, however, around 20 per cent of children have additional health and development needs and require additional supports to achieve their potential at school.
- VCOSS is pleased to see investment in vocational learning initiatives and Tech Schools to build student’s employability skills and help them engage in vocational pathways. In future, the Government can help more students remain engaged in education by expanding flexible learning models across Victoria. Flexible learning programs can provide wrap-around services to address the issues vulnerable young people face, while also providing a supportive learning environment that helps engage them in education.
- The new $50m Shared Facilities Fund will support the development of community hubs. VCOSS has advocated for integrated service which combine universal education and health services such as kindergarten, school, and maternal and child health services, with other specialised community and health services, in culturally safe, welcoming and accessible settings. By integrating specialised services with universal services designed for the whole community, these models can help engage children and families who might other not attend specialised support services.
- In future years VCOSS would like to see increased investment in access and participation in high quality, affordable early learning services, particularly for vulnerable children. This includes providing universal access to three-year-old kindergarten and increasing rates of participation in both three and four-year-old kindergarten among vulnerable children. Engaging in learning and development opportunities earlier and spending more hours at kindergarten can significantly improve school success and bring long-lasting benefits, particularly for vulnerable children.
 S Goldfeld, M O’Connor, M Sayers, T Moore, F Oberklaid, ‘Prevalence and correlates of special health care needs in a population cohort of Australian children at school entry’, Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 2012;33(4):319-327.
Banner image: Flickr (Lucélia Ribeiro)
Thumbnail image: Flickr (alanwat)