Articulating the 'obvious' can be harder than it sounds

This post is about a document that I began working on in March 2014 which finally got published online in September 2019. It is a story about persistence rather than hard work – the end result is only 14 pages long, including the cover page and contents.

This particular story is tied to the ‘Gonski’ reforms to school funding in Australia. As part of an ongoing attempt to expand Federal control over state and non-government schooling, the Australian Government introduced legislation in December 2013 that codified its national funding formulae and education reform goals. As part of this, section 78 of the Australian Education Act 2013 sought to achieve a further level of standardisation by requiring State Governments’ redistribution of Australian Government school funding to comply with a similar ‘base plus loadings’ approach and to be publicly available and transparent.

Unfortunately, the people who wrote this legislation adopted an overly simplistic and superficial understanding of how schooling systems are resourced. Section 78 only makes sense if each State Government passes all their Australian Government funding directly to their schools as cash. The reality is that Federal and State funding is pooled at the State Treasury level and then appropriated to the State Department of Education to convert into staffing, cash and system resources (e.g. buildings, ICT networks) which is then allocated using a combination of school-level, regional and centralised approaches. It is therefore not possible to track each cent and dollar of Australian Government money down to an individual school level, let alone to a student level or – as is intended by section 78 – down to the level of students with disability, or Indigenous students, or students with limited English language proficiency, etc.

Despite the fact that section 78 is nonsensical, the Australian Government is currently under instruction from its political masters to implement this part of the Act, and thereby somehow hold their State Government underlings to account for how they spend their Federal dollars.

In anticipation of eventually needing a publicly available and transparent description of Queensland Department of Education’s resource allocation methods, in early 2014 I initiated a project to develop such a document. This involved forming a working group from relevant areas – in particular, state school operations, human resources, school financial resources, information technology, infrastructure services – and systematically documenting and summarising how the resource allocations occur.

In any event, Queensland was not a signatory to the initial period of the Gonski reforms (2014-2017) and there was no great appetite to publish a departmental document purely for compliance with a nonsensical piece of legislation. The project was put on hold for several years, then dusted off and finalised largely from November 2017 to June 2018. Even following a rigorous process of project management and governance, graphic design, feedback from key stakeholder groups, Branch and Divisional approvals, and Executive Management Board approval, there was still hesitancy from a minority of senior managers to publish the document.

Finally, following mounting pressure from the department’s Policy, Performance and Planning Division, in September 2019 the document was published online. I am pleased to present to you the Queensland State Schools Resourcing Framework (SSRF) Guide.

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