Federal Government Changes to School Funding

NEW Public meeting organised by Tanya Plibersek on school funding issues - Wednesday 19th July. Click here for details.

See links further below for details of the issues facing parish schools as a result to the government's change of funding model. Further links will be added below as they become available.


The issue at hand pertains especially to schools in high SES (socio-economic) areas such as northern Sydney. Up to this point Catholic Systemic (as opposed to Private) schools have been funded fairly equally, essentailly on a per student basis (with exception for additional funding where there are greater needs) so that an fairly uniform level of school fees has been in place across Catholic Systemic Schools. This low-fee structure has been part of the Church's desire to provide a parallel school system offering a faith-based education (rather than an elite education) as an alternative to the local State School system.

The new legislation essentially wants to treat local parish schools in high SES areas as elite private schools which parents with higher incomes should be forced to pay for at a higher level than in parishes with a lower SES. Rather than a level playing field that has been the basis of Government funding of Catholic Schools up to this point, the new legislation results in residents in higher SES areas not being given the same share of their tax dollar as those in lower SES areas.

The point is that the Catholic system does not offer its parish schools as an elite or academically superior alternative to the local State Public Schools - but simply as a faith-based alternative. A right which, up to this point, has been part of the Australian education system. But perhaps we are seeing the thin edge of a very nasty edge. Fr Colin

Please see the links below:

NEW 23rd Jun: Statement from National Catholic Education Commission: Government Imposes Unfair Funding Policy on Australian Schools

Click here

NEW 22nd Jun: Statement from National Catholic Education Commission: Minister's Tweaks Fail to Address Concerns of Catholic Schools

Click here

NEW 29 Jun 17 Click here for the article in our parish bulletin for Sunday 2nd July once again analysing the situation and responding to misunderstandings.

NEW 26 Jun 17 Click here for the letter to parents from Mr Peter Hamill, Director of Schools for the Diocese of Broken Bay, folloing the passage of the Australian Education Act 2017 through Parliament

Concise summary of the issue in the lead up to the Commonealth Parliament passing the 2017 Australian Education Act: click here for the article in the parish bulletin for Trinity Sunday presenting the core issues and facts.

Leaked document: Revealed: How Gonski 2.0 would rip money from Catholic schools to boost public school spending

Click here for article from the SMH for Sunday 18th June.

Click here for the speech in Parliament by Tanya Plibersek exposing the raw deal behind the proposed education package

Article by Greg Whitby, Director of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Parramatta

SMH 21 - 6 - 17

Article by the Headmaster of St Aloysius' College Milsons Point in this week's College newsletter. Go to the bottom of this page for the full text of the article.

Click here for a paragraph by paragraph response by our diocesan schools office to the letter by Mr Birmingham being given to Broken Bay parents by our local Federal Electorate office.

Click here for a detailed analyis of our local situation here at Lindfield by our Diocesan Director Schools

Contact your local Federal Member of Parliament, Mr Paul Fletcher, by clicking here

'Fantasy Figures': Turnbull Government accused of misleading parents about the impact of school funding changes

Click here for NSW Catholic Education Commission Response to some media enquiries

Click here for a further clarification from the Catholic Education Commission

Media release from NSWCEC: setting the record straight on funding for Catholic Schools

Article by the Headmaster of St Aloysius' College Milsons Point , Mr Mark Tannock, in College newsletter:

For the first time in nearly two generations, an Australian government has decided to cut public funding to a significant number of schools throughout Australia. This is a serious and disturbing development. Whilst some individual schools and associations have come out in support of these changes, St Aloysius’ College has continued to voice concerns at the nature of the change, the manner in which it has been executed and the potential impact on our school community as well as on Catholic school systems.

The College is aware that many current parents have their children enrolled at Catholic systemic primary schools in various locations around Sydney. Many of those schools (especially those in the Diocese of Broken Bay) are facing substantial per student cuts to their Commonwealth funding over the next decade and, as a result, they are facing corresponding fee rises. St Aloysius’ supports those parents who are concerned about their ability to access these primary schools and encourages them to voice their concerns to the relevant authorities. Holy Family Catholic Primary School, Lindfield, currently has an online petition which can be found here.

As I have written previously, the Catholic system (including St Aloysius’ which chose to be included) left itself exposed to charges of “over funding” in 2004 when they agreed to come across into the Socio Economic Status (SES) model of funding by creating a ‘funding maintained’ mechanism within the legislation. The College’s position is that it has never been over-funded. Its funding has been enshrined in legislation by both sides of Parliament and this has been set at a level in order for the College to provide reasonable services at an affordable level. The proponents of the legislation, including the Government itself, argue that the changes will introduce a fairer, universal system of school funding.

There are two arguments that are not being prosecuted within the mainstream commentary on this issue.

Firstly, the SES model is clearly flawed. The original Gonski Review highlighted as much when it stated it should be replaced because it “is subject to a potentially large degree of inaccuracy”. Any model that presumes an individual family’s capacity to pay based upon the average profile of every person within that demographic area, carries with it enormous possibilities of inaccuracy.

Secondly, in making these changes, it would seem that the Government has failed to understand the historical precedent for Catholic schools in this country. Since the reintroduction of ‘state aid’ to non-government schools in the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic school system has sat as an option for Australian families next to the public system of schools. Unlike most of the independent sector, they are not an association but a system.

Catholic schools, for the most part, are designed and run as a system that provides real choice for families of all backgrounds who want an education in the faith. Operating as a system provides for Catholic systemic authorities to distribute funds to schools as necessary by determining the needs of the system as a whole. The major change that the Commonwealth has proposed in its new legislation is to take away the averaging of individual school entitlements for Catholic systems and replacing this with an aggregation.

This means that they are no longer treating the Catholic sector as a system, but as an association of individual schools. This is directly contradictory to the findings and conclusions of the original Gonski Report which strongly endorsed the averaging principle for Catholic systems. Unlike St Aloysius’ College, most Catholic schools are diocesan and part of a co-dependent system of schools with central, shared services. This move to aggregation places pressure on them to act independently of their system. Diocesan systems of Catholic schools may be overdue for reform, but not to the extent that they no longer operate as a system.

To be a real choice for any family, Catholic schools need to operate with low (or at least moderate) fee levels. It should not matter where you live nor what your income is. This principle is at the heart of the Catholic educational enterprise in Australia – that Catholic schools are an available option to any family who might choose to enrol their children within them. Over 20% of enrolments in Catholic primary schools in Australia are non-Catholic students.

In understanding this tradition one should compare a Catholic systemic primary school to the public primary school down the road. Both should be an option for families in that local area. Why should a family who is already making a sacrificial choice to send their children to a local Catholic school with limited services be forced to pay even more for that choice? Because of where they live? The Government can’t effectively argue that they are introducing a ‘needs-based’ system of funding when we have the injustice of non-government school families making significant financial sacrifices to send their children to a school of their choice, while living next door to families making almost no contribution to send their children to a public school.

St Aloysius’, an independent Jesuit school for boys, is not part of the Catholic administrative system. However, its fee structure, and the government’s support of this up until 2017, has been based on the same philosophy. Although a substantial sacrifice, an Aloysian education should be accessible to middle-income families through tuition fees, and to low-income families through our means-tested bursary program – a program funded entirely through the generosity of the College community. An Aloysian education should be accessible to families living next to those who send their children to North Sydney Boys High School or Fort Street High School.

Although the impact is limited in the short term, the College remains concerned that the result of the government’s legislation (and potentially future changes given the historical precedent they are setting by cutting funds) will be to price out middle-income families from attending St Aloysius’. We think the Commonwealth Government would want to continue to support the option of moderate fee level independent education in Sydney. The College’s status as a ‘funding maintained’ school actually provided for more choice for families; these legislative changes potentially reduce this choice.

The Government’s proposed legislation poses an existential challenge to the nature of Catholic schooling in Australia. These changes potentially threaten its status as a system of schools open to all just like the public school sector. They threaten to turn it into a collection of schools accessible only to those who can afford them. It is a great shame that the Government seems to be abandoning the strong, long-standing support of both sides of Parliament for the continuation of the Catholic school system as a low-fee option for Australian children.