This week celebrates the 75th anniversary of Sir Robert Menzies Forgotten People’s speech and when Prime Minister Menzies championed school choice and the right Catholic parents, in particular, have to be financially supported.
Not so with Prime Minister Turnbull’s government where its new Gonski 2.0 funding model financially discriminates against Catholic schools, especially those serving disadvantaged communities. No wonder the National Catholic Education Commission has declared war on the Turnbull government.
Henry Bolte, Victoria’s longest serving and most successful premier, knew instinctively that Liberal governments must stay close to their base and this means not alienating Catholic school parents and their communities. Turnbull and education minister Simon Birmingham have done the opposite.
After losing 14 seats at last year’s election and hanging on by a majority of 1 you would think the Turnbull government needs all the friends and supporters it can get. Especially those aspirational voters in marginal seats who choose to enrol their children in Catholic schools.
Forget the political spin coming out of Canberra that Gonski 2.0 is sector blind where all schools are equally treated.
The reality is that the Gonski funding model, based as it is on a small sample of schools and outdated census data, is methodologically flawed and statistically corrupt. The so-called needs-based model that determines what each school receives is a bureaucratic artifice that bears little relationship to the real needs of schools.
Even worse, under the Gonski funding model wealthy parents enrolling their children in well resourced and privileged government schools, like Sydney’s Fort Street and Melbourne High, do not have to contribute financially to the school’s base level of government funding – described as the Schooling Resource Standard.
The dollar amount of the Schooling Resource Standard received by Catholic school parents, on the other hand, is reduced by what Gonski describes as parents’ “capacity to pay”.
Catholic schools automatically receive less government funding compared to government schools and parents have to make up the difference; regardless of whether they can afford it or not.
And it also should not surprise that the Gonski 2.0 funding model, based as it is on the original 2011 Julia Gillard-inspired Gonski report, discriminates against Catholic schools. The report is weighted against non-government schools and calculated to make it more difficult for parents to choose such schools for their children.
David Gonski, chosen by Turnbull to chair Gonski 2.0, revealed this bias against non-government schools in a 2011 speech to the Australian Education Union when he argued, “We need to continue to build a strong public school system, and investigate and understand the causes and effects of the enrolment shift from government to non-government”.
Ken Boston, involved in Gonski 2.0 and similar to David Gonski, also believes that any funding model needs to favour government schools as he is concerned that increasing numbers of parents are deserting government schools in favour of Catholic and independent schools.
While the switch from government to non-government schools has slowed recently during the period 1998 to 2008 enrolments in non-government schools grew by 21.9 per cent while enrolments in government schools flat-lined at 1.1 per cent.
Instead of accepting parents’ right to choose Boston condemns parental choice as an example of “neo-Darwin free-market forces” and argues that non-government schools only serve “an exclusive clientele identified by SES, religion, ethnicity or some other dimension”.
Financially penalising Catholic schools, as well as being politically inept, is also inequitable and socially unjust. One of the most important decisions parents make is where to educate their children and parents have the right to choose a school that best embodies and reflects their values and beliefs.
Unlike government schools that are secular and where Marxist inspired gender and sexuality programs like Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships are compulsory Catholic schools are faith based and have greater freedom when deciding what they teach.
Surveys show that parents value Catholic schools because they are faith based where education involves the whole child, intellectual, moral as well as spiritual, and schools set high expectations and, compared to government schools, have more disciplined classroom environments.
Another reason why Catholic schools must be properly funded is because research shows such schools are very effective in promoting diversity and difference and, as a result, there is less racism and bullying compared to government schools.
Research also proves that Catholic schools have higher completion rates where more students stay on to Year 12 compared to government schools. Catholic school students also achieve better Year 12 results and have a much higher chance of going to university.
In addition to paying school fees Catholic school parents also pay taxes that support government schools and the existence of Catholic schools, that enrol over 20 per cent of students across Australia, save state and commonwealth governments billions of dollars each and every year.
While some argue that Turnbull has neutralised the Australian Education Union’s and the Australian Labor Party’s ‘I give a Gonski’ campaign by employing David Gonski, who was originally commissioned by the Julia Gillard, the opposite is the case.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and author of Dumbing Down