Funding has been lopped at hundreds of Catholic schools across Australia and federal cuts have been imposed in politically critical areas including Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney and regional NSW, a new study shows.
An independent report into the Catholic school funding crisis has shown a breakdown by diocese — large church districts — that also exposes the government for the first time to a political backlash from the sector in Queensland.
The report shows that Catholic education in the ACT is the worst affected but that faith-based schools in the dioceses of Broken Bay in NSW and Broome in Western Australia also face real funding cuts until 2028.
Fee increases and potential school closures are on the agenda in parts of Australia.
The Port Jackson Partners report shows that average funding for schools in the Brisbane archdiocese will go backwards in a potentially electorally explosive result. The report, commissioned by the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, shows flatlined funding to the main church zones in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide over the life of the funding deal.
Canberra and Goulburn Catholic Education director Ross Fox said the data showed the cuts were national. He urged an overhaul of the funding system.
“What is now clear is that the new funding model delivers funding cuts to hundreds of Catholic schools well beyond Canberra,’’ he said. “This will deliver a hit to cost of living for many parents through increased fees. It is difficult to reconcile these findings with reassurances from the government that funding is increasing for all but a very small number of schools.’’
But the report also shows the funding picture is complex. At the state level, most Catholic education systems receive more overall — or roughly the same funding — over the next 10 years.
But there is a clear funding disparity, where many schools technically don’t receive enough money but others do, enabling the government to argue it is providing Catholic schools more money overall. This leaves Catholic educators with the dilemma of jacking up fees or closing underfunded schools or shuffling money away from better-funded schools to save troubled campuses.
Catholic education offices control the money allocated from the federal government but are increasingly concluding that shuffling money around schools is divisive, clumsy and untenable.
The government’s education funding reforms have generally favoured state and independent schools, the Catholic sector argues. But Education Minister Simon Birmingham said: “The federal government directly funds eight Catholic school systems across each state and territory, who then distribute their funding according to their own needs and their historical structures of different dioceses or religious orders.
“Federal funding is projected to jump by $2.9 billion over the next decade for the eight state or territory Catholic education authorities, well above inflation at 3.7 per cent per student per year, and they retain the right to distribute this record and growing funding across their schools according to their assessment of need.’’
The socio-economic funding system can create distortions with its assumption that parents in a given neighbourhood have the same means as their neighbours to contribute to the cost of education.
Catholic parents typically earn less than parents from high-fee independent schools, the Catholic sector says. Analysis of the 13 marginal seats in NSW, Queensland and Victoria shows almost 70,000 children were Catholic-educated in those seats in 2016.
The Australian, 21 May 2018