SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Allison Langdon: Well, a whopping $3 billion carrot is being dangled in front of private schools by the Federal Government to get classrooms reopened by June – the dramatic offer putting more pressure on state leaders and public schools to do the same.
Karl Stefanovic: The Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan joins us from Hamilton in Victoria. Minister, good morning to you.
The lights are on but no one’s home, as they say. Dan, can you hear us all right? No, we cannot hear Dan.
Langdon: Let’s just give this just a minute, we might be able to fix this.
Dan Tehan: Just give us two minutes.
Langdon: Dan, you’re on air right now. Can you hear us?
Tehan: Yes, we’ve got you here from Hamilton. I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Langdon: Yes, we’ve got you.
Stefanovic: Okay. This is a step in the right direction. Dan, thank you for being with us again. So, you couldn’t get your way with the states, so you decided to go around them and jam them by offering private schools a $3 billion carrot to get the kids back, huh?
Tehan: Well, we were approached by the Independent and the Catholic schools raising concerns that some of their schools were facing financial difficulty because of the coronavirus. So, what we’ve decided to do is bring forward the normal payments that we would make to them – a $3.2 billion payment in July. We’re bringing that forward in two instalments – one in May and one in June – and, what we’re asking them to do is to have a plan to reopen their schools by the end of May, and then commit to having at least 50 per cent of their students at school, in the classroom learning, by the end of May.
Langdon: So, you’ll only give them the money if they do what you say?
Tehan: No. What we’ve said, they came to us and they said, ‘Look, we’ve got some cash flow issues.’ Our position has been consistent all along – safe for schools to be open, safe for teachers to be teaching in the classroom, with the right protocols in place. So, what we’ve said to them is, if you will act consistent with the Federal Government’s position, then we’ll bring these payments forward. And, our hope is, that schools right across the nation, non-government schools, will do so. Remembering that, at Western Australia, South Australia, and NT, schools are open, children are attending, teachers are in the classroom. So, we’re already seeing almost half the nation’s schools open.
Stefanovic: Okay. So, Dan, if your kids go back to school, you get the cash. If the kids don’t go back to school, they don’t get the cash?
Tehan: So, if you have a plan – and there is no reason why any non-government school can’t put a plan in place to be reopened …
Langdon: … Come on Minister, this one is just a yes or no. This one is just a yes or no answer.
Tehan: What’s that? No, well, if they decide not …
Langdon: … This one is just a yes or no answer.
Tehan: Alright. So, if the schools decide not to put a plan in place, they will get their normal payment in July. This is about bringing the payment forward. So, if they want to get their normal payment in July, they don’t have to put a plan in place.
Langdon: And, here’s the issue with this, is that, you know, if you succeed in doing this, you’re going to drive a wedge between private and public schools. So, if the private schools go back, which you’ve asked them to do, you’re putting public schools at a great disadvantage. I mean, that was the very thing you were saying yesterday that you didn’t want to see, is kids being left behind.
Tehan: Well, we’re not doing that, because government schools in Western Australia are back, in the Northern Territory they’re back, in South Australia they’re back. In Queensland, we’ve already had the Government say that they’re going to review in early May their position. In New South Wales, schools are going back, students are going back at different times during the week. And, in Victoria, the Premier said yesterday that non-government schools – Catholic and Independent schools – it’s up to their councils, their boards, to make the decisions on when they go back. So, what we want to do is to make sure that no student misses out on education. And, we’ve seen from those reports, that it’s those students from low socio-economic backgrounds, Indigenous backgrounds, rural and remote backgrounds, where English is spoken as a second language, it’s those students who are going to suffer if they’re not connected to the classroom. So, that’s why we want to do this.
Stefanovic: Okay. And, so, if you give the $3 billion to private schools, the private schools go back, and the states don’t. So, there’s a deliberate wedge there, and those disadvantaged kids are still disadvantaged.
Tehan: Well, our hope is that all state government schools will go back by the end of May. We’ve said, why don’t we set this as a national goal [audio error] …
Langdon: But, your issue is that schools are a state issue. I think we’ve an issue there with your microphone. Schools are a state issue. You’ve already had the Victorian Premier saying it’s not going to happen in term two.
Stefanovic: No, we’ve lost him again.