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.

Financial sustainability planning in a government agency setting

Today’s post is a visit to my day-job, working as Manager Financial Strategy in the Queensland Department of Education and Training (DET).

My role with the department began in early 2011, with the task of thinking about what ‘financial sustainability’ means within a government agency setting and how this could be implemented and articulated through a Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP).

Six years later and I think we’ve almost cracked it in the latest DET LTFP 2017-21.

Initial investigations looked at many and varied financial planning frameworks in the private and local government settings. However, in all these settings there is an element of fiscal governance which does not apply in a government agency setting – the ability to autonomously increase fees and charges, sell assets and/or raise debt. In government, these things are done at a whole-of-government level rather than individual agency level.

This key difference makes it challenging  to even define ‘financial sustainability’ in a government agency setting, let alone plan and monitor progress toward such a goal.

The DET LTFP 2017-21 is based around three financial goals over which the department does have control and which can be measured to some degree. The goals are:

  • Efficiency and value – Cost-effective services that support the department’s
    strategic agenda
  • Revenue assurance – A sustainable funding base supported by strategic partnerships
  • Strong resource management – Enhanced ability to predict and plan for budget priorities and risks.

The LTFP is updated annually as the department seeks to ensure $9 billion-plus per annum of Queensland taxpayers’ funding is invested effectively and efficiently on state schools, early childhood education and training services.

The LTFP supplements the department’s Strategic Plan rather than being a peak document in its own right. This is as it should be: evidence suggests that financial resources are a necessary but not sufficient condition for improving educational investment. As some pundits say, ‘it’s not how much you spend but how you spend it’. Never a truer word spoken.

 

 

 

Trust Waikato triennial reviews

If you are interested in evaluations, organisational reviews or community capacity building, check out this set of new reports published online by Trust Waikato:

Trust Waikato has been prioritising regional capacity building of community organisations for more than 15 years. To enhance public accountability, Trust Waikato commissions a three-yearly major review of each of its three ‘umbrella trust’ initiatives.

In 2015, APR Consultants Ltd undertook all three triennial reviews in parallel, enabling synergies and cost savings. The review process and reports by Paul Killerby, Ana Morrison and Deryck Shaw received highly favourable feedback: “…The Review Committee were very pleased with the overall review process and mentioned many times the high quality of work produced by APR.  Umbrella Trust representatives were also full of praise….’

To find out more about this project, contact paulkillerby@gmail.com or deryck.shaw@apr.co.nz.