News National ‘Don’t do that to us!’: Catholic schools’ warning to Labor revealed

‘Don’t do that to us!’: Catholic schools’ warning to Labor revealed

Labor has been warned against revealing private school funding figures.
Tania Plibersek received a warning call from the Catholic school lobby, sources have told The New Daily. Photo: AAP
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Taxpayer funding to the richest private and Catholic schools under Labor could be kept secret until after the next federal election following complaints from the sector.

The Labor Party’s announcement of a new Fair Go For Schools website last week, which detailed how much extra money every public school in Australia would secure under a Shorten government, sent shockwaves through the Catholic sector amid fears the same transparency would be applied to private schools.

The New Daily understands Catholic school leaders considered calling deputy  Labor leader Tanya Plibersek to warn her against revealing how much individual private schools secure.

“I thought, ‘I hope you’re not planning to do that to us’,” a Catholic education official told The New Daily.

It follows a war with the Catholic sector that started when the Turnbull government published a similar online calculator to promote Gonski 2.0, prompting complaints from the now Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli. 

The Catholic sector insists it is not trying to hide the information from parents, simply that it is misleading because the Catholic sector takes all the taxpayer funding and redistributes it within the sector based on its own calculations on class sizes and its funding model. 

A similar process actually applies to public schools, where state governments “skim” from grants to individual public schools to fund head office operations. 

But it now appears that all private school funding could be omitted from Labor’s online schools calculator until after the election, with the ALP claiming it’s too hard to collect information on how much each school secures until they form government.

Labor’s calculator promise

On Monday, Ms Plibersek pledged that parents would know exactly how much individual schools will secure under a Shorten government by using the online estimator.

“Absolutely. You can check. We’ve got figures up there for public schools,” she said in Perth.

However, she stopped short of pledging to ensure all taxpayer funding to private and Catholic schools will be revealed by Labor on a school-by-school basis.

“We can’t yet provide the figures for Catholic and independent schools because the federal government won’t share the funding formula that they are using for Catholic and independent schools,” she said.

“But for thousands of public schools around Australia, every parent, every teacher, every principal, every person who’s interested can type in the name of the school or the postcode or the suburb that the school is in and have a look at how much better off their school will be,” she said.

A spokesman for Ms Plibersek told The New Daily that it was too complex to provide the data on individual private schools at this stage. 

A Shorten government has pledged to restore all of the billions of dollars cut from the original Gonski funding by the Abbott government, but has not detailed how this would be distributed on a school-by-school basis for private schools.

Archbishop intervenes

The Catholic sector’s concerns over the online calculator follows the intervention of the Archbishop Comensoli in 2017, when he personally rang then-education minister Simon Birmingham to complain about the Coalition’s plans to publish individual school data.

At the time of the call, the Archbishop was then responsible for the Broken Bay Diocese in NSW, and warned schools and parents could be angered by the calculator because the amount schools received from state Catholic education offices would not match up. 

“There were multiple representations, including from the now archbishop of Melbourne, over that intervening period about the fact that we were going to tell every school what they were going to get, urging us not to do that,’’ a senior Liberal confirmed.

The Turnbull government’s original schools funding estimator was also condemned at the time by NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes. 

“You should not rely on these figures for future planning or budgeting purposes,” Mr Stokes wrote in an email to public school principals. 

“The calculation of apparent increases to your school also does not take into account increases in salaries or any other cost growth over the next decade.”

However, the secretary of the federal Department of Education responded that Mr Stokes’ claims included “a number of factual inaccuracies”. 

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