Right off the bat I have to say I am a conservative Catholic who supports the Gonski 2.0 “cuts” to Catholic schools. I’m not going to get into the whole debate around Gonski 2.0 – there is enough ink and bandwidth being taken up on that. Instead I am going to focus on the issues of middle-class welfare, justice and equity, and the Church’s mission to provide an education in the Catholic faith.
With due respect to Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher (for whom I have the highest regard), he have this argument all wrong and should dial down the rhetoric a notch or two. With respect, Your Grace, you are making the Church look like it is just another rent-seeker.
The fact is the Catholic Church has had a pretty good ride on the taxpayers’ purse for a good 50 years. That ride has been disproportionate to the numbers of children in Catholic schools. Catholic schools have held a privileged position among non-government schools in terms of the levels of funding since the 1970s. It has ensured Catholic schools are the second-largest sector of schools next to government schools. Further, it has seen them outperform many government schools, especially in poorer suburbs.
However, there are several reasons the level of funding needs to be pared back.
The first is economic. The fact is the levels of funding to non-government schools has become a form of middle-class welfare. Many parents who opt to send their children to Catholic schools do so because they provide a better quality education than many government schools, and achieve better results for university entry. Good value for their money – sorry, the taxpayers’ money for them.
However, many of the parents who make this choice have the wherewithal to pay for better educations for their children. But why do that when we live in a country where the government will subsidise your children’s educations?
Rather than fund the schools directly, the government could provide education vouchers to parents to allow them to directly decide where they want to send their children to school. It might be interesting to see how many parents still opt for Catholic schools and how many choose to send their children to other non-government schools. Many might choose education competitiveness over the benefits of a “religious” education. I suspect Catholic schools might haemorrhage under this model, as would government schools. It is well known in Catholic circles that many parents fake their Catholic-ness in order to fit in with the system. I know of many who have “converted” for this very purpose. If these pseudo-Catholics are allowed more control over the allocation of tax dollars they might make altogether different choices.
Archbishop Fisher might want to give some thought to the full implications of that reality.
The second argument against the Church’s position is to do with justice and equity. If the Church is true to its commitment to the concepts of justice and equity, there is no logical argument to support its requests for special treatment. As the Church has received for a good fifty years a disproportionate amount of taxpayer funds to run its schools it has denied other schools and all taxpayers their natural law rights to justice and equity.
Can Your Grace explain how the Church’s rent-seeking aligns with its mission to achieve justice and equity for all in society?
Finally, the Church has failed miserably in its mission to provide an education in the Faith to the children of Catholics. Indeed, many faithful Catholic parents with the financial wherewithal have opted out of the Catholic school system, choosing other denominational or non-denominational schools for their children. The original mission of Catholic schools was to provide a truly Catholic education, especially for children of the working classes and poor.
Today, too many teachers working in Catholic schools are not committed to the teachings of the Faith – they do not attend Mass on Sundays. Some even support the marriage equality agenda, acording to anecdotal reports I hear, and promote this either in classes or in conversations with children under their care. It shouldn’t be allowed!
Catholic schools have lost their vision and mission, Your Grace. It is time they were pulled back into line, and what better way to achieve this than by reducing funding levels?
Rather than fight Gonski 2.0, the Church should embrace this as a blessing, as an opportunity to clean house. Catholic schools will be able to release teachers not fully committed to the Faith (i.e., fire them due to the funding “cuts”). And, put the fees up slightly and the parents who aren’t really committed to getting a religious education for their children might also elect to move them somewhere else.
What better way to put the feet of your principals and parents to the fire, Your Grace? Ask parents whether they want a genuine Catholic education or just higher marks for Johnny and Jane to enter university. Here’s a chance to give them a real Faith-based choice. At the same time you will reap the benefits of children graduating from schools with a better understanding of their faith.
Of course, you could continue the “good fight”, Your Grace, to retain the privileged position of the Church’s schools in Australian society. And Bill Shorten and Tanya Pliebersek have offered to pick up cudgels in the Church’s defence.
Given their record on social issues of importance to the Church, be very careful, Your Grace. Remember the old rule on supping with the Devil. Well, Ol’ Nick comes in many guises.
Alistair Nicholas is a Sydney-based public affairs executive who writes on a range of social, political and business issues for a number of publications.