Response to Christian School Concerns on Commonwealth Funding

As indicated in our recent Policy Update, following the decision by Catholic schools bodies in Queensland to actively campaign in the Longman by-election, and the subsequent claims that this was pivotal in determining the outcome, the Opposition sought to raise education funding as a campaign issue once again.

The media then reported that the Government was looking to make a ‘funding deal‘ with Catholic schools in direct negotiations being led by the Prime Minister.  Independent school associations in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia responded yesterday with a letter to the Prime Minister warning against any ‘special deals’.

We have continued to have contact with the Minister’s office over this period to ensure that the needs of affordable fee Christian schools are being reflected in the Government’s consideration of the future directions for funding, including its response to proposals from the National School Resourcing Board for changes to the SES methodology.

Last week, in conjunction with other Christian school groups, we wrote to the Prime Minister urging the Government to maintain its commitment to a principles-based funding model, providing student-focused funding on a sector blind basis.  Member schools can download a copy of the letter here.

Together with our colleagues from Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS)  we met last week with the Prime Minister’s office in relation to these issues and reiterated our commitment to supporting a student focused, sector blind funding model.  Earlier today we met with the Minister, Simon Birmingham, in Adelaide and reiterated this commitment and called for the Government to provide a clear commitment to schools in relation to funding for 2019.  The Minister acknowledged that while the overall impact of any proposals before Government was minor that the school level impact was the critical issue for Christian schools and that an appropriate transition path would need to be incorporated in any changes.

Given the Government’s favourable initial responses to the recommendations of the National School Resourcing Board (NSRB) to change the methodology for the calculation of the SES from 2020 and beyond we proposed to the Minister that existing funding arrangements be continued into 2019.  Included in this proposal is a view that the SES scores should not be updated for 2016 Census data, given that the likely changes introduced from 2020 will use a different base.  In our view any benefits which may be obtained from the use of updated SES data would be outweighed by the uncertainty and disruption such a change would cause.

The Prime Minister has responded to the letter from Christian School associations, see here, and we will be having further technical briefings from the Commonwealth Department of Education over the coming weeks.  The Minister has also invited us to continue to provide input into the SES methodology review process and how the NSRB recommendations might be applied to schools.

We will be continuing to press the Government, and the Opposition, to remain committed to a principled approach to Commonwealth funding that is student-focused and sector blind.