Catholic schools fees ‘may soar’


A Catholic education: St Patrick’s principal Tim Noonan met Mark Dreyfus with school parents to discuss funding fears. Picture: Gary Sissons

A CATHOLIC school in Mentone fears families may have to pay higher fees under the federal Coalition government’s new “Gonski 2.0” funding arrangements.

ST Patrick’s Primary School principal Tim Noonan met with school representatives and federal Isaacs Labor MP Mark Dreyfus last week to discuss proposed changes to federal government funding for Catholic schools.

Mr Noonan fears the current arrangements – based on a system weighted average as recommended by the Gonski Review in 2011 – will change for the worse and that parents will have to pay more than they can afford.

Current funding treats all Catholic schools as if they are “one big school” and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria averages funding out across the entire Catholic education system based on the actual needs of each school, providing a saving to many families – particularly at a primary level.

Mr Noonan said that in 2015, St Patrick’s, at Mentone, raised $1182 per student from parents and the school community for school operations, while a further $602 per student from private income was put towards capital projects.

“Under the government’s proposal, St Patrick’s will be expected to raise over $2600 per student in private income to contribute to school operations in 2015 dollars,” he said.

“This means that the government will expect the St Patrick’s community to raise nearly $1500 per student more (in today’s dollars) or 89.9 per cent, from parents and its school community for school operations.”

Catholic Education Melbourne communications and marketing acting manager Mike Pountney said the federal government contributed 63 per cent towards parents’ Catholic school fees, so “any changes are bound to have a big impact”.

The increases would come from changes in funding arrangements which will “effectively treat Catholic schools as if they are independent schools”, he said.

Instead of averaging out the funding across the Catholic education system and providing a saving in fees for many families, Catholic schools are concerned future fee calculations will be based on what the government considers they should be charging parents using socioeconomic status (SES) scores.

They argue that SES scores “don’t reflect the actual financial circumstances of families and that Canberra’s calculations overestimate their parents’ capacity-to-contribute fees”, Mr Pountney said.

“Catholic schools aim to be open and accessible to all families seeking a Catholic education. That means we aim to be affordable.

“The biggest concern for Catholic education is that the changes proposed by the Turnbull government will expect many Catholic primary school parents to pay more than double the fees they currently pay. This is not an acceptable impost for any family to face.”

But a representative of federal Dunkley Liberal MP Chris Crewther said that, under the proposed reforms, Catholic schools will continue to be able to distribute funding “based on their own models of need”.

Dunkley MP Chris Crewther said the government recognised that systems were best able to determine the needs of students, and supported their autonomy in allocating funding.

He said the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria would receive about $1.84 billion this year, rising to about $1.93 billion next year, and to about $2.93 billion by 2027.

“The allocation is based on a consistent funding formula applied to all non-government schools, with the amounts aggregated and paid on behalf of all schools within their system,” Mr Crewther said.

He said funding would be allocated fairly, according to the 2011 Gonski Review’s recommended Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) for each school in its system.

“Under the new arrangements all schools, in all sectors, in all states, will have their notional Commonwealth funding entitlement calculated on a needs-based formula which, where they operate in a system, will then be aggregated and paid to their system authority.”

Mr Crewther – who said he had met with Catholic principals to explain the changes – said Victorian Catholic schools in 2017-21 would receive $10.1 billion in recurrent funding – up 20.3 per cent – compared to a national average of 19 per cent. The sector in 2017-27 would receive $25.9 billion – up 59.1 per cent over the period.

He doubted Catholic primary school parents would be required to pay double the fees they currently pay.

“There is no reason for fees to increase, let alone double, with the increase in funding to the Catholic education system in Victoria.

“The Catholic education system can still redistribute this funding as they wish. On average, funding for the Catholic system in Victoria grows at 3.5 per cent per student per annum over the next four years. This growth is above inflation and the Wage Price Index, making claims that schools will need to significantly increase fees unjustified.”

First published in the Chelsea Mordialloc Mentone News – 7 June 2017

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