Danielle Cronin - Opinion Piece: The Australian, May 25
In the 23 days since Malcolm Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham announced their long-awaited school-funding plan, a lot of numbers have been thrown about and many accusations have been made.
Setting aside the numbers for a moment and ignoring the allegations the Education Minister has been making, the discussion about the government's Quality Schools policy comes down to one fundamental point: do we value the school system we have in Australia today?
There are legitimate concerns about how Australian students are performing on national and international tests, and they should be addressed. But are Australians generally happy with a system that provides a (notionally) free government school option, a (predominantly) low-fee Catholic school option, and an independent school option, in which fees range from low to very high?
I believe the answer is yes.
As the national body representing Catholic education, we know that parents value the affordability and accessibility of Catholic schools in their community. We know that parents of all religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and those of all political affiliations, choose a Catholic school for their children.
Most Catholic schools in Australia are primary schools that, along with a government school across the street, are a focal point of the local community.
Those Catholic primary schools charge fees that are affordable for most families there are policies to support those who can't pay but we know that slow wage growth has placed financial pressure on Catholic and independent school families.
What is at stake with the government's new funding model is the future of that low-fee, inclusive Catholic school system. The Education Minister will claim, and has claimed, that such a comment is misleading.
Who is to be believed? The minister's comments are based on national averages and are designed to win a national public relations campaign rather than taking account of local realities.
Catholic education's concerns are based on the financial modelling that the Department of Education and Training has provided. It shows us what each Catholic systemic school around the country has been allocated under the new policy.
That modelling, contained in the department's funding estimation tool, tells us that hundreds of Catholic schools will be alloc¬ated less commonwealth funding next year than they were allocated this year. It tells us that dozens of schools will be hit with a funding cut of 50 per cent or more next year. And almost 200 schools will be allocated less funding in 2027, under the minister's plan, than they are this year.
These are the department's own figures. Those figures cannot be disputed. They cannot be man-ipulated.
The minister is travelling the country speaking about 24 "overfunded" schools that will see their funding cut. Those schools, some of which are Catholic independent schools, will see their funding reduce gradually during the next decade.
Not so for those dozens of Catholic systemic schools that will see their allocations cut by between 50 per cent and 68 per cent next year, followed by modest increases during the next several years to drip-feed some of that money back to them.
By saying that funding is going up across the country, or in each state or territory (except the ACT, which will see funding cuts over the next decade), the minister is trying to hide his cuts to Catholic school communities.
He is asking Catholic school systems to mask those cuts.
The solution, he says, is redistribution asking other Catholic school communities to share some of their government money with the schools facing significant cuts next year.
Catholic schools redistribute funding to support additional teaching and learning needs that don't show up in the funding model. It is not about taking money from "poorer schools" to give it to "richer schools". It is about delivering funding that meets the locally assessed needs of individual school communities and maintaining our low-fee, inclusive Catholic school system.
While some of the schools facing cuts are in lower-wealth areas (based on the seriously flawed socio¬economic status model), most of those schools are in areas deemed to be wealthier. Therefore, if the minister wants us to conceal his funding cuts via redistribution, that additional money would have to come from schools in lower-SES communities.
His recent media commentary implies that redistribution of that kind would be unacceptable.
An alternative response to the funding cuts would be to raise fees in the Catholic schools facing cuts in their commonwealth funding. The minister, in trying to defend or conceal his cuts, says that shouldn't have to happen.
By suggesting neither of those two remedies is acceptable, the government has left Catholic schools in an untenable position.
Catholic education has no choice but to fight for our schools and for our families just as education ministers are doing on behalf of government schools.
Danielle Cronin is acting executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission.
|Tags: NCEC Funding|