ALP unveils schools plan

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Tanya Plibersek. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Labor will make no funding changes to Catholic and Independent schools and will have an “open door” policy for Catholic schools if elected to government at the 2022 election, Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek told a meeting of the Council of Catholic School Parents NSW/ACT.

“Labor supports parental choice. We will make no funding changes to Catholic and Independent Schools. You will continue to receive the full 100% of the schooling resource standard,” Ms Plibersek told the CCSP NSW/ACT’s Term One council meeting on 4 March.

“But it is our objective also to get public schools to 100% of the schooling resource standard, not at the expense of other sectors but in addition to other sectors. We have to work with States and Territories to do that.”

“Catholic and Independent schools currently receive most of their funding from the Federal Government, while government schools receive most from the States.”

The schooling resource standard is an estimate of how much public funding a school needs to meet a fair quality of education for students. Catholic and Independent schools currently receive most of their funding from the Federal Government, while government schools receive most from the States.

Ms Plibersek told the CCSP NSW/ACT they would “always have an open door if I am the Education Minister”.

“I think we’ve worked well in the time that I’ve been the Shadow Minister and that would certainly continue if we are elected,” she said.

Labor is promising a $440 million funding package for education if elected this year, with $50 million of that amount going to upgrading schools in line with COVID-19 public health standards.

$200 million of discretionary funding would also be made available to schools to address mental health concerns in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, amounting to around $20,000 for the average school.

Ms Plibersek also promised 465,000 new free TAFE places and 20,000 university places to address high youth unemployment and skills shortages.

“I think in terms of funding that it’s really, really important that the Catholic sector is seen as a partner in education and delivering education for the whole community.”

Council members from the Archdiocese of Sydney, and the Dioceses of Broken Bay, Wilcannia-Forbes, Maitland-Newcastle, Armidale, Bathurst, Lismore, Parramatta and Wagga Wagga, also had the opportunity to ask questions and put comments to the Shadow Minister for Education.

CCSP Chair Wayne Davie said that it was incorrect for the Catholic school sector to be seen as a competitor to government schools.

“I think in terms of funding that it’s really, really important that the Catholic sector is seen as a partner in education and delivering education for the whole community,” Mr Davie said.

Tanya Plibersek with the Council of Catholic School Parents last Thursday. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Tanya Plibersek with the Council of Catholic School Parents last Thursday. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Ms Plibersek added that while Catholic schools enrol many non-Catholic students, it was also true that many Catholic children attend Government schools, with some families – including Ms Plibersek’s – choosing to enrol their children in both Government and Catholic schools.

Deputy Chair Cheryl Murphy asked how Labor would “better support Catholic schools to be more accessible for students with diverse learning needs and support them in their education journey”.

Ms Plibersek said this was “the most underdeveloped area of school funding” and that it breaks her heart when families are told their local schools cannot accommodate their children with special learning needs or disabilities.

“We were still going to confession every Saturday so we could take communion well past Vatican II. There was fish on Friday well past Vatican II.”

Labor has redoubled its efforts in recent months to engage with the Catholic Church and its agencies prior to the election campaign, with Ms Plibersek describing her own upbringing as “very Catholic”.

“We were still going to confession every Saturday so we could take communion well past Vatican II. There was fish on Friday well past Vatican II,” she said.

“I think it is absolutely true that Catholic social justice values and Labor values are two sides of one coin.”