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I am writing this column on Budget day, having watched my old school’s submission to the original funding review, where teachers became filmmakers to speak directly to those on the review panel of the needs and aspirations of our students.
I remember spending that day reassuring my colleagues that their stories mattered, doing lots of outtakes and then voting as a group of Federation members to endorse the written submission with a proud satisfaction that we had contributed to something much bigger than we could anticipate at that point in time.
This reflection, on a day that locks in cuts to public education, flares up the shared ache of staring down a potential road to betterments, but not yet able to hit the accelerator.
The ability to hit “go” depends on the choice we make at the polling booth in the upcoming federal election, the next significant peak in our Fair Funding Now! campaign.
The choice on behalf of our kids is stark: a Morrison Liberal/National Government that has cut the money our schools have to reach and teach them or a Shorten Labor government that will deliver $14 billion to pull all public schools up to the minimum funding level and deliver an additional $300 million for dismantling the barriers faced by our kids.
When the Gonski review of school funding was appointed in 2010, I was an early-career teacher and Federation Representative at a special school in south-western Sydney.
My shock, as a newly minted special ed grad, at government failings was giving way to frustration at the complexity of both the children’s lives before us and the lack of commitment to these lives beyond their classrooms and homes.
The frustration was switched swiftly to activism by my experienced colleagues at the workplace and Federation.
In those five short years of teaching, we had had to fight tooth and nail for every iota of targeted resourcing needed to move our students beyond the brain’s stem and limbic system; from fear and survival mode to cognition and life-enhancing learning.
We had suffered the blow of having our “Comino” funding pulled; funds that represented a significant percentage of the school’s overall budget, which had been in place as a departmental pilot for greater equity of staffing for settings like ours.
But the more we worked our organising muscle the more it developed and delivered. The resolve for progress grew, the workplace wins piled up and we were humming in solid practice.
Our Federation meetings were frequent, our need to consider industrial action common, and our belief that we needed the Department and governments to match our push for better practice unwavering.
Too much time though was spent securing the basics, shoring up the “Maslow” to get to the “Bloom’s” so to speak; having to demonstrate to all and sundry beyond our school gates that doing the sophisticated work of healing and safety, for trust to give way to the development of new neurological pathways, was resource intensive.
Imagine what a skilled and committed staff like us could do if we too could move out of fight or flight to innovative design and transdisciplinary approaches for improved student outcomes.
By 2012, glimmers of change were on the horizon in the form of a National Partnership to the tune of $300 million. I will never forget proudly writing the NSW dollar figure on our school’s Federation notice board, with such high hopes for those children who were yet to come through our doors and so desperately needed us to smother them in love, stability and high expectations. The actions to translate this to learning would take more than our values, they needed recurrent resourcing.
The Gonski review listened and acknowledged that to deliver improvements for students with disability, additional investment would be required by way of a Students with Disability loading.
All of these announcements mattered. Yes, for the money but equally for the leadership of its strong message; equity and excellence is a hope and expectation for every single child.
In 2013, NSW became the first state to sign up to the Gonski agreement and we have had five years of additional equity funds flowing through the RAM thanks to our funding campaign success.
What failed to increase were the funds for students with disability and this compounded the challenges being experienced by the diluting of expertise and cost-capping measures of the state government’s Every Student, Every School changes.
The national census — the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data — continued to paint a picture of unmet need, the National Disability Insurance Scheme heaped another layer of demands without support on our schools and the promised Gonski loading never materialised under a Coalition government.
So now weeks out from a federal election we face yet another opportunity for redress for our kids, another chance to move this story out of the shadow of inequity and set up a trajectory for firewalled improvements.
A change of government translates to no longer having to fight for the foundations or painstakingly pushing along modest incremental progress, to instead boosting the creation of fundamental change.
Our schools are out there doing it already, in communities of schools, in philanthropist-funded projects. It’s not too much to want this for all not for some, long term not time bound, government facilitated not hamstrung.
We have the success of our decades-long funding campaign propelling us forward, we have the commitment of schools to never turn back, we have a new generation of teachers for whom inclusivity and diversity is a given and a real possibility of money that will sustain this in their classrooms.
Lives will be changed on the back of your willingness to play your part. All you need to do is to tell parents and your circles that we have to do better, that we are up for it and that we need their backing by signing up and urgently spreading the word of Fair Funding Now! and voting in the funding so we can hit go.
— Claudia Vera, Officer attached to the Special Education Restricted Committee