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Catholic schools are mobilising against new Gonski funding plan

Canberra Catholic school parents at a forum

Parent concern: Hundreds of Canberra Catholic school parents attend a forum at St Clare’s College to learn about the Gonski 2.0 funding changes.

CATHOLIC schools are mobilising for a major campaign against the Federal Government’s so-called Gonski 2.0 10-year funding plan, which would force them to raise fees, and could result in school closures and pressure parents to shift children to public schools.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham unveiled the plan on May 2, but without consulting Catholic school authorities or providing details of the plan, that would rollout from 2018.

Modelling of school fees in New South Wales showed parents with children at 78 Catholic primary schools would be hit with fee increases of more than $1000 per child per year.

Queensland Catholic school authorities share funding concerns, but say there is not enough detail to determine how school fees could rise north of the border.

“The Federal Government is claiming its plan for school funding is all about certainty but that’s the last thing that it delivers for more than 300 Queensland Catholic schools, 147,000 students and their families,” executive director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission Dr Lee-Anne Perry said.

“There has been a spectacular lack of detail provided to the Catholic sector and we were only invited to the discussion table after the Government made its announcement.”

Sydney Catholic Schools executive director Dan White said the policy would bite after the first three years and could force low-income families to leave the Catholic system.

“It would push a greater number of children into state schools and they are struggling to accommodate them as it is,” Mr White said.

“It will push a more marginalised family with greater learning needs into state education.”

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Under the funding proposal, current agreements with Catholic school authorities across Australia would be rolled into a single, needs-based model, meaning all non-government schools will be brought into line with the school resourcing standard within 10 years.

It would erase the so-called Student Weighted Average for the Catholic sector, which has allowed state and local Catholic systems to meet local needs not otherwise covered by a blanket national model.

This includes programs for newly-arrived students, students with behavioural issues and advanced learners.

Senator Birmingham said the Catholic Education sector’s modelling was “misleading and fundamentally flawed”, adding that funding for Catholic schools would increase by $1.2 billion over the next four years.

“I am committed to stopping the school funding wars and I urge all parties to end their scare tactics and stop campaigns for special treatment,” he said.

Under the new federal model, Catholic schools would get a proportionate increase well below the size of the increase to government and private schools – 3.7 per cent compared to 4.7 each year during the next decade.

The director of Catholic Education in Canberra Ross Fox warned of a political backlash that would “cost the government votes”.

“This is clearly an issue for parents and who could blame them,” he said.

Dr Perry said the worry in Queensland was for the most vulnerable.

“For example, we’re particularly concerned about changes that will affect the funding that flows to support students with disabilities,” she said. “We’re also very concerned about some of our rural and remote schools and those in communities that are already struggling.

“We want all parents to have the option of sending their children to a Catholic school but those communities don’t have the flexibility to meet fee increases.

“Some western Queensland shires have been drought declared for four years. Those parents aren’t suddenly going to be able to find more money to keep their child in a Catholic school.”

Executive officer of the Queensland Catholic schools Federation of Parents’ and Friends’ Associations Carmel Nash said any school fees increase would impact on families deciding where to educate their children.

“I think Australian education has been built on choice,” she said.

“Families already make sacrifices to pay school fees, and make the choices to do without other things, so if they take away that choice then that’s difficult.”

With decades of experience in education decision-making, Mrs Nash described the education funding shake-up as unprecedented.

She said the current student weighted average worked and “is a system that is for the good of all”.

“It’s a system which allows some outback schools to remain open,” Mrs Nash said.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher wrote an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review in which he explained that Catholic schools wanted a fair Gonski deal, not special treatment.

“Surely no one wants to return to the days when Catholic schools got such a raw deal that non-Catholic statesmen like Robert Menzies, Gough Whitlam and John Howard thought it a blot on our national life,” he said.

“They insisted that every Australian child, whatever their religious or institutional affiliation, should be given the best educational opportunities.

“Instead of playing off one school sector against another, one school against another, or one family against another, our government should ensure affordable choice for every parent and the best educational outcomes for every child.”

Catholic school authorities expect details of the Federal package to be presented to the National Catholic Education Commission at a meeting later this month.

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