Gonski Sweetheart deals “unfair” - Funds flow to Catholic education

Matthew Knott

Catholic schools in wealthy sub­urbs across Australia are being sig­nificantly overfunded by taxpay­ers, with some receiving up to four times their funding levels under sweetheart deals in the dying days of the Rudd government.

Fairfax Media revealed last month that more than 150 private schools across Australia receive more funding than they are en­titled to under the Gonski formula, with some schools receiving up to 283 per cent of their entitlement.

Now, new data from the Depart­ment of Education show the in­equities and distortions in Austra­lia’s school funding system extend to the Catholic sector.

Catholic schools are funded on a system-wide basis, and state and territory Catholic education com­missions distribute funding among their schools as they see fit.

The Catholic sector, which edu­cates 20 per cent of Australian school children, insists it redistrib­utes funding among its 1731 schools on the basis of need.

But Fairfax Media has un­covered many examples of Catholic schools that receive more government funding per student than local public schools and “overfunded” private schools nearby.

For example, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Prahran [metropolitan Melbourne] received $11,875 per student in combined federal and state government funding in 2014. This is significantly more than nearby public school South Yarra Primary ($7754) and private school Christ Church Grammar ($2600), according to data on the My School web site.

Christ Church Grammar received 130 per cent of its entitle­ment, suggesting Our Lady of Lourdes is dramatically overfunded by taxpayers.

The case of Catholic schools in the Australian Capital Territory is the starkest example of the special deals Education Minister Simon Birmingham says have led to the corruption of the Gonski Review recommendations.

Under a deal between the Cath­olic sector and [the former] Rudd government less than two months before the 2013 election, ACT Catholic schools were all allocated an SES score of 101, the same as New South Wales and Victoria. This is despite ACT Catholic schools having an av­erage SES score of 118 and some having a score as high as 128.

A low SES score inflates the fed­eral funding schools receive be­cause it is assumed parents have a reduced “capacity to contribute” to their children’s education

Public school advocate Trevor Cobbold, a former Productivity Commission economist, said it appeared ACT Catholic schools were receiving $50 million in ex­cess federal funding a year due to the deal. “These type of deals are completely contrary to the Gonski principles,” he said. “This is scarce money that could be given to schools of high need.”

Senator Birmingham said he was determined to do away with the “cosy deals Bill Shorten ran around the country stitching up before the 2013 election”.

“It is not fair that a student in a school of similar or identical disad­vantage in one part of the country gets $1500 less or $1500 more from the federal government than a similar-looking school elsewhere in the nation,” he said.

National Catholic Education Commission executive director, Ross Fox, said: “Our funding oper­ates on clear principles of equity and need, and I believe we do that well.” He said the SES score alloc­ated to a school does not always reflect its specific needs and that system-wide funding allows the sector to efficiently distribute funds between schools.

From: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/sweetheart-deals-e...