Catholic schools save governments money


Yesterday, Eureka Street published an article by Emeritus Professor of History and Politics, Ross Fitzgerald titled How Catholic schools are failing the poor. In his article, Professor Fitzgerald argues that 'Catholic schools … have become the instrument through which millions of tax dollars are siphoned off public schools and given to the private sector.' He contends that unless the Catholic Church embraces a model that integrates Catholic schools into the public system, 'its commitment to the Gospel of social justice will be in ruins'.

The arguments in this article are a misrepresentation of the facts. Put simply, systemic Catholic schools do not siphon money off the public sector — they save governments money.

The funding provided to each student in a systemic Catholic school (Federal and State Government combined) is $7,299. For each student in a public school, the amount is $10,162 for each student. The difference per student is $2,863 which is made up for, in part, by modest school fees. This is a direct saving to governments.

Fitzgerald states that 'Catholics do not operate comprehensive schools through which their students are exposed to the entire curriculum that is available to government schools'. This is incorrect. Catholic systemic schools are explicitly comprehensive in nature and offer a wide range of opportunities for students.

While the NSW government schools quarantine some schools as selective high schools (academic, sport, performing arts etc.), there are no Catholic selective high schools.

Enrolments of Indigenous students in the Archdiocese of Sydney have risen significantly in recent years (in 2009, the number of enrolled students is 519 with the target for 2010 being 600) with the introduction of scholarships to all primary and secondary Indigenous students.

The number of students enrolled in Sydney Catholic schools with identified special needs also continues to rise with 3,542 students — 5.6 per cent of the student population — identifying in this category. Catholic secondary schools also offer a range of curriculum options from extension units through to vocational subjects.

In their 2007 Pastoral Letter, Catholic Schools at the Crossroads, published in 2007, the Catholic Bishops of NSW and ACT acknowledge that 'in the early 21st century … demographic and economic change have meant that the poor are no longer over-represented in our schools'.

I acknowledge that this represents a challenge for us, but one that we are keen to meet. In recent years, the decision has been made that school fees in the Sydney Archdiocese are to be pegged to the CPI rise. Also, we have made it explicitly clear that no Catholic child will be denied a place in a Catholic school as a result of an inability to pay fees. With the current economic crisis biting hard for many over the past year, this message has been consistently reinforced in our communication with parents.

Further to this, a New Evangelisation Working Party, made up of key stakeholders from Catholic education, has been formed to explore ways to make Catholic education even more accessible to low income families.

It is important to note that models for funding that make assumptions of financial capacity based solely on geographic location can often be misleading. To argue that every resident of a suburb that rates as a 'high income location' is financially comfortable can misrepresent the reality.

Disadvantage occurs everywhere and many families who on the surface appear to be financially comfortable, may be struggling under the weight of family breakdowns that have left them income poor. Many in this situation have little option but to maintain their current residential arrangements at great personal cost. Other families may find themselves dealing with unemployment for the first time, as economic conditions change.

Many critics of the current funding model for schools offer a simplistic, one-dimensional view about how non-government schools are funded. The reality is that Catholic systemic schools receive less funding than government schools, with a significant shortfall remaining even after the inclusion of modest fees.

For many years, Catholic schools have operated as highly effective learning communities, alongside government schools, to deliver quality education for students. Parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic school do so with the expectation that they will not be disadvantaged by that choice. It is essential that this never be forgotten when consideration is given to making changes to the way that education is funded in this country.

Dr Dan White is Executive Director of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Sydney



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Existing comments

Congratulations Dan, on your balanced response to the article published by Ross Fitzgerald. It is unclear from Ross Fitzgerald's article as to just what the advantages of integrating Catholic Schools within the Public Sector actually are for the Australian context?
Peter Kelaher | 25 August 2009

A very sound and most accurate letter, just as long as the Catholic Education Office does not give preference to systemic schools which are in the more affluent suburbs which is the case in at least one capital city.
bygone | 26 August 2009


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