Targeted Federal Government funding designed to “close the gap” in Indigenous education has effectively been frozen for years, a new study concludes.
Two researchers from Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research (SSPR) have just released their findings of a study entitled “The funding of Indigenous education through Special Purpose Supplementation: an historical overview”.
Co-authors of the report, Helen Walsh and Associate Professor Tess Lea, Director of the SSPR, have revealed that funding has not increased beyond the consumer price index since 2001, and possibly longer, despite most Indigenous students continuing to fail literacy and numeracy benchmarks across the country.
Describing the findings of the report, which drew on research that was independently funded by the Ian Potter Foundation, Dr Lea said that government policy was exacerbating the problem.
“Government programs are so confusing and difficult to access, they actually operate as a contributing factor to the outcomes in Indigenous education,” Dr Lea said.
The supplementary funding examined by the report was distributed via various programs to all states and territories and eligible organisations as Special Purpose Payments (SPPs). While this funding has led to the development of much-needed programs and resources, the report lists a number of bureaucratic processes complicating the scheme.
The report reveals that these problems are compounded in the Northern Territory by the NT Government’s inability to fully access the funding despite the jurisdiction’s extraordinary needs (only about 30-35% of Year 5 Indigenous students reached literacy and numeracy benchmarks in 2006). As an example, the report outlines that in 1999, of the $5 million made available to the Territory for strategic initiatives in Indigenous education, only $195,000 was accessed.
While the report does not examine other jurisdictions, national figures indicate the Territory Government is probably not alone in this failing. The report states that “…with approximately $660 million allocated under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act, section 14, for 2005-06, and only $365 million actually paid.”
To alleviate the problems and improve the effectiveness of SPPs, Dr Lea said she believed that governments must shoulder much of the blame for Indigenous education outcomes and act on evidence, not historical practice.
“Government red tape and the lack of fool-proof lines of funding distribution are a structural feature of SPPs despite frequent program restructures,” she said.
“There needs to be greater government accountability on how the money is spent, simplification of current policy, and stringent research into what level of investment is actually required to bridge the gap in Indigenous education.”
In 2005-06, SPPs made up just 1.5% or $418 million of the Federal Government’s education expenditure of $30 billion. Despite the research focusing on only a small portion of the overall education funding, Dr Lea is adamant about its relevance.
“It should be remembered that the programs that are targeted for funding under SPPs are earmarked as supplementary or extraordinary funds – the money required for extra efforts to close the gaps. So attention to what that money has been doing and what has been happening to the special grant allocations over time is warranted,” Dr Lea said.
Read the full report, The funding of Indigenous education through Special Purpose Supplementation: an historical overview http://www.cdu.edu.au/sspr/documents/Indigenouseducationdiscussionpaper.pdf