School funding should be about equity not politics

By Greg Whitby, 18 May 2017

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

School funding has been the big news story over the past fortnight. Just before last week’s Federal budget, the Turnbull Government announced a new funding model that would take effect from the beginning of 2018. The Prime Minister also announced another education inquiry – Gonski 2.0 – which will explore the best ways to use government funding to get the best outcomes for students, particularly students with high needs and gifted students.

Overall, the new model provides an increase in funding over the next 10 years. However, Catholic education leaders have been critical of the announcement for a couple of reasons:

  • Funding for Catholic schools will increase at a slower rate compared to government and independent schools;
  • A new mechanism is being introduced that will result in some low-fee paying Catholic schools receiving less funding than they currently receive;
  • There was no consultation with Catholic leaders about the changes before they were announced.

The lack of detail in the new model has created a great deal of confusion and fear that some Catholic schools may have to significantly increase their fees in the years ahead to meet what some modelling suggests will be a major funding shortfall. There were many stories in the media about this last week.

It is very disappointing that we are once again back arguing about how much funding each education system should receive. What should matter above everything else is that all students, regardless of where they live or the school that they attend, receive a great education. A school’s postcode or the suburb that a student lives in should not determine how the school is resourced – funding should be based on need. School funding should always be about equity not politics.

The Diocese of Parramatta educates around one in four western Sydney students. I am well aware of the sacrifices that our parents make when they choose a Catholic education for their child and I appreciate that many of our families are already struggling to meet ever-increasing living costs. With this in mind, we have no desire to increase fees, outside of the normal annual cost of living increases. It has always been our intention to make Catholic educations as affordable as possible.

What we need right now is a clear and unambiguous commitment for the Federal Government that students in low-fee paying Catholic schools will not be negatively impacted upon by any new funding model. Then we can get on with doing what we do best – educating young people.

Is that too much to ask?

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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