Bishop wonders if the Government is trying to undermine Catholic education as a sector

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The spokesman for the bishops of Australia on education has asked whether the Federal Government is trying to undermine the autonomy of Catholic education with its mooted changes to funding, changes which took the sector by surprise earlier this week.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, Chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, in suggesting that the government’s proposed changes would impact the affordability and accessibility of Catholic schools, said he was particularly concerned about the prospect of a government website marketing the changes in a particular light.

“(We are) deeply concerned about the Government’s intention to launch a new website that will outline how much federal funding each school in Australia will receive under the proposed changes,” Archbishop Costelloe said in a 5 May media release.

“The website ignores the reality of Catholic education systems and indeed other schools systems, which are able to redistribute funds according to the needs of individual students or schools.

“The website will effectively undermine system autonomy and mislead parents who could easily assume that the Commonwealth will now determine Catholic school fees.

“Is the Commonwealth seeking to abolish system autonomy and regulate fees for Catholic schools by ignoring the role of school systems?”

Catholic entities have continued to ramp up pressure on the Federal Government after it announced a new major review of funding, dubbed “Gonski 2.0”, and an intention to shift to a new “needs-based” funding model for state and non-state schools.

Earlier today, the National Catholic Education Commission called on the government to reveal the basis for its funding calculations around its claim that Catholic education would be $80 million better off over the next four years, “or its new plan will have no credibility”.

“We have been unable to replicate the Government’s model to test its calculations,” the acting Executive Director of NCEC, Danielle Cronin said, 5 May.

“The Government has refused to provide sufficient detail to our sector to enable us to understand and test the actual impact of the Government’s proposal on school funding allocations for next year.

“There are many questions left unanswered including what happens to students with disability funding and indexation after 2020.

“At face value, it appears Catholic schools could be worse off on both counts over the next 10 years.”

In the case of the ACT, the impact of the Government’s changes hits hard from the first year of the new model, Ms Cronin said in a statement, leaving the sector vulnerable to immediate fee increases and staffing cuts.

“The Gonski Review established the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) as the benchmark of assessed need.

“The Government has effectively redefined the assessed need for the Catholic sector without consultation – which is unprecedented, given the Catholic sector is the second largest provider of schools in Australia.”

The NCEC told media that the only meeting between the Minister and the Catholic sector that provided any detail on the Government’s new school funding policy occurred on 2 May 2017, the same day as the Government’s announcement.

“Informing the sector of proposed changes on the day they are announced is not consultation. Consultation was promised months ago, and never delivered. For such a major policy change, this lack of engagement is unprecedented.”

Ms Cronin said the NCEC is seeking urgent discussions with the Government to find out exactly how the new funding model will affect individual schools and to seek assurances that the new funding arrangements will not adversely affect Catholic school students and their families as well as Catholic school teachers and staff.