Libs question Labor’s sums

A WAR of words is likely to erupt over whether Government spending on education has been increased or cut in Treasurer Eric Ripper’s first budget.

The Government says it will spend an extra $100.5 million over the next four years to improve the public education system.

Education was one of the areas the Government singled out for special attention, along with health and law and order.

The Government also has cut the controversial compulsory school fee program for Government schools, which is understood to have created a $17 million shortfall.

Mr Ripper said the total Education Department budget for 2001-02 was $2.015 billion – a 2.4 per cent increase on the 2000-01 allocation.

However, Opposition education spokesperson Barbara Scott said Labor’s budget measures indicated a real cut in education spending.

Ms Scott said the 2001-02 budget indicated an increase of just $48 million on the previous financial year, representing a decrease of 0.5 per cent after inflation was taken into account.

“Coupled with the annual growth in enrolments of around 1.5 per cent a year, this budget delivers nothing but cuts to this vital sector,” she said.

“It means Labor’s promise to reduce class sizes will be broken, resources will not be available to adequately cope for the planned expansions in early childhood education and that programs will be cut.”

Ms Scott said the education capital works budget had been cut 8 per cent, no funding was provided for Labor’s promised information technology in schools program until the 2003-04 year and no money was available for the laptops-for-teachers program until next financial year.

Mr Ripper said the Government would spend an extra $30 million on building new schools and refurbishing old ones over the next four years.

He said it also had made information technology skills a priority.

The Government has allocated nearly $28 million for a literacy and numeracy program. Part of the money will go towards hiring 200 extra literacy and numeracy specialists.

The Government is also spending an extra $10 million over four years to introduce programs addressing behaviour problems in schools.

Mr Ripper said schools would have the flexibility to use the funding to decrease class sizes, employ more support staff or support specialised programs to deal with specific behaviour problems.

He said a further $9.4 million would be made available to schools over the next four years for educating children with disabilities or learning difficulties, and $8.6 million would provide teachers with further training, professional development and promotion opportunities. A further $2.1 million would fund a scholarship program for prospective teachers.

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