Catholic educators have renewed warnings about looming school fee hikes, urging senators to stall the Turnbull government’s funding plan during a tense public hearing.
Catholic school authorities say the proposed funding model, dubbed Gonski 2.0, has stoked immense confusion and concern and could pit communities against each other.
Their warnings come despite funding to Catholic schools increasing in all states and territories except the ACT over the next 10 years, sparking some heated exchanges with senators in Canberra on Monday.
The government argues the Catholic school sector will get an extra $1.2 billion over the next four years and more across the decade.
But the National Catholic Education Commission says more than 600 schools across the country will be worse off, with dozens facing funding cuts of more than 50 per cent.
“Catholic education will have to take money off those that are set to win under that model and redistribute it to those that are set to have funding cuts next year,” acting executive director Danielle Cronin told senators.
The Catholic sector is concerned the legislation could curb their ability to distribute funds as they see fit, and are worried about how school resourcing standards and socio-economic statuses are worked out.
They fear the legislation before parliament would also lock in an inadequate measure of parental capacity to pay fees.
Senators were urged to keep existing legislation in place while the impacts of the school funding model were unpacked and any unintended consequences rectified.
“What we are seeking is that some serious policy work and consultation is undertaken to ensure we do end up with a genuinely needs-based funding model that is sector blind,” Ms Cronin said.
Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young both took Catholic officials to task over their line of argument.
“I find it extraordinary that you’re advocating – despite the fact that across the country you get an overall increase – that you’re advocating that you should continue to get overly funded in order to keep school fees low,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“Chronically under-funded schools, whatever sectors they come from, surely that has to be the priority.”
Meanwhile, representatives from Australia’s independent schools have conceded some will be worse off under the new funding plan but offered senators their measured support.
More than 400 independent schools will receive lower funding growth than under existing legislation, and two dozen schools will have their funding cut, but representatives say the new model is consistent and will allow for planning.
“We didn’t want to argue for anyone to lose money – we’ve never said that publicly – but if the government has decided this is the best way to introduce a fair model of funding, then we’ve accepted that,” Geoff Newcombe, from the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, told a Senate inquiry on Monday.
The government needs 10 extra Senate votes to pass the legislation, with Labor opposed to the plan it says cuts $22 billion from schools over the decade.
The Greens and Nick Xenophon’s team of three senators appear to be favouring the government’s plan with some changes, to ensure money gets to the neediest schools faster.
Originally published as Catholics warn senators against Gonski 2.0