THE Federal Government schools funding bill, publicly exposed as a serious threat to Catholic education across Australia, is now under serious threat.
In a week of political maelstrom over Gonski 2.0 which aimed to overhaul schools funding, Liberal senators showed their dissenting muscle, and Liberal MPs in the House of Representatives threatened not to support the funding bill on current modelling, because it would disadvantage Catholic schools.
The funding bill could be scuttled if or when it comes back to the lower house.
Government funding figures which showed Catholic schools would be $4.6 billion worse off over a decade under Gonski 2.0 funding, triggered Coalition dissent – first in the Senate, and then amongst lower house members.
In the lead-up to the Senate vote, retiring Western Australian Liberal Senator Chris Back, a former member of Western Australia’s Catholic Education Commission called for the introduction of the Gonski 2.0 schools funding to be delayed for a year and a review into different funding models.
“My legacy very strongly is to support Catholic schools and unfortunately until I’m convinced that the proposals in place will not disadvantage Catholic schools, and independent schools for that matter, then I’ve indicated to the Minister that ‘obviously please don’t make me vote against the Government in my last week in the Senate’,” Senator Back said.
At the heart of the dispute was Senator Back’s call for Catholic schools to maintain their system-weighted average funding model for another 12 months while the socio-economic status formula was reviewed.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham was also forced to stare down division within the Liberal Party as number of backbenchers expressed fury at the release of Department of Education modelling that showed the Catholic schools shortfall of $4.6 billion.
National Catholic Education Commission executive director Christian Zahra said the truth about Senator Birmingham’s massive cuts to Catholic funding was only revealed by the department at the 11th hour.
“For nearly two months, Minister Birmingham has been going around the country saying that his school funding model not only delivers needs-based funding, but also delivers funding increases to all but a small number of schools,” he said.
Mr Zahra said Senator Birmingham had misled principals and families about changes to school funding under Gonski 2.0.
“Maybe now Minister Birmingham understands that school funding policy should not be imposed without engaging with the people who run school systems in this country,” he said.
“We call on the minister to stop trying to rush this policy through the Parliament and let the current funding arrangements roll over into 2018.
“This would give him time to enter into a genuinely collaborative process that would deliver true needs-based funding for students in all schools across all sectors.”