Today's question for the region's federal election candidates: Given the Illawarra’s high youth unemployment and structural changes to the regional economy, how can our local education services be improved to give today’s students better job prospects when they leave school?
The Gonski reforms have dominated discussion on education in the lead-up to the federal election.
Since it was delivered in late 2011, the Gonski Review, which found urgent and fairer investment was needed in schools, has sparked debate over the best ways to implement the recommended changes.
Labor, the Coalition and the Greens have all followed through with plans to boost the funding available to primary and secondary schools.
Under former prime minister Julia Gillard, Labor announced its Better Schools Plan, which included a commitment of $10 billion to fund the Gonski reforms over the next six years, starting next year. State governments need to provide a further $5 billion to fund the changes.
Schools in the Throsby and Cunningham electorates would receive $79 million more public funding in 2019 than in 2013 under this plan. For example, Albion Park High School would receive $5,356,594, Wollongong Public School would get $1,304,458 and Bulli Public School would get $999,744 in Gonski funding over the six years.
Greens leader Christine Milne has committed to Gonski agreements with each state, as well as to a further $2 billion to fund public schools over the next four years. The Greens argue federal funding should be focused on public schools and should be on the basis of need. Their education policy recommends money saved from ending funding for wealthy non-government schools be reinvested into public schools with the highest proportion of students from a disadvantaged background.
Senator Milne yesterday announced a $1-billion scheme to fund 2253 new teachers in disadvantaged government schools across the country.
Last month, Tony Abbott announced the Coalition would also commit to the Gonski funding reforms "dollar for dollar", but only match the funding for four years instead of the six laid out in Labor's plan. Two-thirds of the money Labor has promised is due to come in the final two years.
But Mr Abbott has said no school would be worse off under the Coalition's plan, which was released in full last week.
Along with the Gonski commitments, the Policy for Schools: Students First policy also pushes for 25 per cent of public schools to become independent public schools by 2017.
Based on the model the Western Australian government has introduced in a third of the state's schools, it means schools would become accountable to the community rather than the government.
The Coalition would establish a $70-million Independent Public Schools Fund to support schools that decided to make the transition.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has also announced that Labor plans to open another 137 trades training centres in high schools across the country to help address the skills shortage and encourage students to finish year 12.
Centres at Figtree High School, Edmund Rice College, Warrawong High School, Illawarra Sports High School, Lake Illawarra High School and St Joseph's Catholic High School have been built or pledged, while funding for centres at Dapto High School and Warilla High School was announced last month.
Both Labor and the Coalition plan to introduce a national curriculum.