Why Less is More for Catholic Schools

st augustines IIRight 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.

  • ian.macdougall

    A campaign for vouchers would be more useful than the carping of clerical rent-seekers.

    It is the old problem we all face, regardless of faith or persuasion: lay out a nice picnic spread on a cloth spread out on the ground, and in no time at all the blowflies will descend on it. To many, the name of the game is getting out more than you put in. I call it the blowfly theory of politics; and there are some prize buzzers (or should that be bludgers?) around on both sides of the game. And as the above header for this piece declares, even our Holy Mother the Church has them.
    Always has, and I dare say always will.
    (Forgive me, Your Grace, for I have probably sinned. 😉

  • Keith Kennelly

    Well, a truely thought provoking piece.

    I suspect Alistair you are right.

    I only know one committed catholic, he’s at mass every feast day, Sat evening and Sunday morning. We even discuss the ‘Old sinners’ confession.

    He’s 77 and not much interested in education. … and he’s a former teacher.

    Today I asked him what he felt about the funding. His eyes glazed and he shrogfed his shoulders

  • Keith Kennelly

    Now there’s my Shakespearean coming through.

    Shrogfed, it’s sure to rhyme with s…head, Maidenhead or or bed.

    The years entwined with shrogfed ,
    Back to back frozen hard as ice
    In common loveless marriage bed,
    Wishing the other, another vice.

  • whitelaughter

    Let’s see – taxpayer money goes to the federal government, which goes to the state governments, which goes to the schools. *But* federal funds are only one source of funds going to the schools.

    Why not make school fees worth tax credits, so that the schools of the well-off are completely removed from the govt cycle? Then yes,some sort of voucher system for the other schools.

    Given that the only reason we *have* a public school system is that the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches handed over hundreds of schools to the States during the 19thC, it would also be worth giving those schools back, to reduce the amount of harm that the likes of Roz Ward can do.

  • [email protected]

    I am a teacher in a Catholic secondary school. I have taught in half a dozen Catholic schools over three decades. Alistair Nicholas is absolutely correct in his impressions regarding both parents’ motives for sending their children to Catholic schools and the lack of adherence to basic Catholic doctrine by the teaching staff. For many the Catholic system is simply cheaper than many grammar schools and better than their local government school. If the schools were not Catholic, it would not make a spit’s worth of difference to the vast majority of students and teachers that I have seen. I agree that they should cut the funding to Catholic schools. We would then really see who wanted the Catholic education.

  • Warty

    Alistair may not be suggesting this, but my understanding is that there are these hints, these implications of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
    There is something unseemly about the expression ‘middle-class welfare: even I cringe a little, but I suspect it has more to do with the expression rather than a finger pointing at the relatively well off nevertheless being ‘entitled’.
    I’m afraid I can’t get away from the silly idea that if one pays taxes all one’s life, one ought to reap some of the benefits of those taxes.
    It is a bit disgraceful, I know, but I feel a rising anger every time I hear Peter Dutton talk of the billions spent on the tax payer funded legal fees of asylum seekers who wish to challenge their deportation orders, again and again and again. Peter would like to put a cap on these challenges to restrict the rivers of gold going into the wrong pockets, and yes, it annoys me, but I’m a bit old fashioned I suppose. What if some of that money could go back into pensions? Or ensuring that our super schemes remain sacrosanct?
    So, I have an inner conflict about all of this education funding stuff. On the one hand I’m a great believer of tax being shared equally, particularly when higher income earners, who pay more tax than middle or lower income earners.
    On the other hand I am opposed to pouring tax payer money out on an education system, and I’m talking mainly about the curriculum, when this education sytem is broken. The HSC curriculum has been ‘retooled’ to reflect the interests of our Labor/Green ideologues. So out with the gender theory I say, along with climate change philosophy, and bring back the basics, the same basics our Asian competitors focus on. I just can’t see the Singaporeans focusing on gender studies any more than the South Koreans might, so in the interest of competitiveness, I think we should ditch the Marxist rubbish and get back to the empirical stuff..

  • Keith Kennelly

    But, but … Warty that would favour boys …

    • Warty

      What, in particular, would ‘favour boys’, Keith? But even if the reallocation of funds were to ‘favour boys’, I’d be the last person to complain. In 2015 males were three times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts. Feminists regard that as an inconvenient truth, so they simply avoid talking about it.
      Boys and men get the rough end of the stick. Feminists feel it is just deserts, in the light of the way women were treated for centuries. In my mind that simply keeps the round repeating, endlessly. It doesn’t deal with inequity. On the other handy you may simply have intended to be flippant.

  • Lacebug

    Lacey Underpants (Off Topic). I just posted the following response the bleating left wing comments on the French election. It was REJECTED by the SMH moderator. WHY??

    I disagree. This is a terribly disappointing result, with France voting to continue with the Islamification of the nation. The results will speak for themselves with more blood spilled on the Champs Elysee.

  • Eddystone

    A couple of high profile Islamic schools have lost Federal funding recently.

    I wonder if the Turnbull Coalition is trying to demonstrate it’s lack of Islamophobia by having a cut at some Catholic schools?

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