State Budget: New Programs for DOE But Funding is Questionable

Michael Ferguson’s first budget as Treasurer includes plenty of new initiatives but like much of his budget it’s not clear how they are funded. Big spending initiatives like his $36 million for School Safeguarding Officers are new initiatives but the budget papers indicate they will be ‘funded from within the Department’s existing resources’. What existing programs won’t be funded so the new programs can be?  Hopefully the budget Estimates process next week will shine some light on these questions. 

School Safeguarding Officers  

There is $36 million over four years to fund School Safeguarding Officers in every school.  The money will fund the equivalent of 72 fulltime staff with schools begin allocated a proportion of the funding based on size. These School Safeguarding Officers will be responsible for developing policies to change practices and culture to ensure children are safe from the harm of sexual abuse in schools. It seems the intention is to allocate money to each school and the Principal will decide who within the school will be the School Safeguarding Officer. 

The CPSU is concerned that this is not the best way to use available funds to make children safer. There is already a shortage of social workers in our schools, and we believe this money would have been better spent engaging another 72 social workers and giving them responsibility to ensure children were safe in our schools. 

This funding will also provide mandatory professional development for all DoE staff, a team of 4 senior support staff to support children affected by harmful sexual behaviors, an additional 8 psychologists and 8 social workers to support student wellbeing and safety. $750,000 has also been allocated over the first 2 years to support the Teacher’s Registration Board to conduct investigations into complaints and undertake disciplinary processes. 

Infrastructure Funding 

The budget includes $7 million in 2022/23 to address COVID safety through improved ventilation, including the installation of air purifiers and air conditioning and minor repairs to windows. This money will be shared between public and private schools. There is also $10 million in 2022/23 to enhance outdoor learning spaces. 

There is $2 million a year for 4 years to upgrade electrical switchboard infrastructure and $4 million over 2 years to ensure students have the tools and technology to access remote learning including laptops, tablets and internet dongles. There is also $12 million over 4 years to develop a case management platform and extends the project to replace the ageing student and school administration systems and improve integration of its core business systems. 

The budget also includes $19 million over 4 years to fund general education grants in non-government schools as part of the National School Reform Agreement. 

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