LABOR’S rural affairs spokesman and the party’s New England candidate were in Tamworth yesterday to promote Labor’s promise to give $28 million to the region’s public schools. Joel Fitzgibbon joined David Ewings on the campaign trail outside Peel High School and said the party was “in New England to win, not to come second or third”. “The primary vote is being split, with Tony Windsor entering the race, and we think that makes this an open game,” Mr Fitzgibbon said. Mr Ewings said education was a “top priority” and a major point of difference between Labor and the Coalition. “It certainly has to be at the top, in an area where we’ve got disadvantaged schools,” Mr Ewings said. “The message that we’re getting from the Coalition amounts to saying to these children they’re not worth funding. I’d be amazed if anyone with school-aged kids who go to public schools votes for the Coalition in this sort of climate.” Mr Fitzgibbon said Nationals New England MP Barnaby Joyce had “gone missing” on the issue of the Gonski reforms, which would deliver $28 million to local schools over two years, and continued to oppose the “important” funding. “About half of the additional Gonski funding will go to regional schools, not withstanding that only a third of students in the state are from regional schools,” Mr Fitzgibbon said. “Barnaby Joyce should stand up in front of his constituents and explain why he’s not supporting the Gonski funding, and, on that basis, why he’s letting down local schools.” Peel High School NSW Teachers’ Federation representative Greg Parker said New England had some of the state’s poorest postcodes. “We understand how that equity funding through the Gonski initiative has supported kids in those particular postcodes,” Mr Parker said. “In all schools across our area, I’ve heard reports about the successes that Gonski has been able to initiate in schools. In my own school, for instance, there has been significant additional effort put into literacy and numeracy, and we’ve seen results coming out of that. Kids across regional NSW have always been up against it academically with their metropolitan counterparts and Gonski is addressing that.” Mr Joyce said the Coalition was spending “a record $73.6 billion (on education) over the forward estimates”. “School funding will grow every year from current record levels of investment, but at an affordable rate of growth based on recent changes in the cost of delivering education,” he said.