Comment: The fight to keep school fees down
By Br Kelvin Canavan
Parents with children attending Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney are now paying over $100 million per annum in fees and other school-related charges.
This contribution from their own pockets is additional to their regular tax payments, a proportion of which goes towards the education of children in all schools, whether they be government, independent or Catholic.
The statistics outlined in an Accountability Report from the Sydney Catholic Education Office to the Commonwealth Government show that parents of the 60,795 students attending 150 parish primary and regional secondary schools paid $66.3 million in fees and charges during the 2000 school year.
When the much higher fees paid by parents of students attending the 18 congregational colleges are added, estimated at $36 million, the total outlay for those who choose Catholic education for their children in the Archdiocese of Sydney is more than $100 million a year.
These contributions by parents help bridge the gap between the actual cost of schooling, and the government grants for each student attending a Catholic school. Federal and state government grants for systemic schools make up about 80 per cent of the total cost of schooling, with parent and parish contributions filling in the rest.
But even with this welcome assistance from governments, the costs parents shoulder when they choose an education that reflects the values of their faith, are substantial.
These contributions form part of a long tradition in which Catholic parents have made considerable financial sacrifices in order to exercise their right to choose a Catholic school environment for their children.
With record numbers of students attending Catholic schools around Australia (around 650,000 in 2002), many Catholic families are still keen to make that choice in the face of the additional cost burden.
However, it’s regretful that some Catholic parents find the cost of Catholic education beyond them. Some have withdrawn their children from Catholic schools, while others don’t even bother applying for enrolment.
Also, our market research over the years has shown that the level of fees is the largest deterrent for parents when considering sending their children to a Catholic school, despite the fact that there is an open policy stating that no Catholic family will be denied a Catholic education through inability to pay the fees.
The Catholic Education Office is doing all it can to keep school fees at the lowest level possible. For example, the tuition fee increase for 2002 is below 3.5 per cent. The average for the period (1998-2002) is just over 3 per cent per year, which is slightly below average inflation – 3.87 per cent (Australian Bureau of Statistics) – for the same years.
Building levies are a necessary additional cost because government capital grants fall far short of the amounts we need for upgrading our facilities and building new schools in growth areas. These, too, have been kept to the min-imum amount necessary
to provide an up-to-date learning environment for our students.
At the school level, our principals and staff are always seeking ways to reduce the ancillary costs of schooling, such as uniforms, excursions and books, without compromising the quality of learning offered to the children.
This sometimes involves subsidising more needy families from general school funds for essential educational requirements.
Catholic Education Office and school staffs are always on the lookout for ways to contain the costs of Catholic education for families.
The ultimate aim is to ensure that Catholic education is accessible to all Catholic families who wish to enrol their children in a Catholic school – irrespective of income.
Br Kelvin Canavan is executive director of schools, Catholic Education Office, Sydney.s