Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School

Choice Belongs to Everyone

The proposed new School Funding package that is currently before the Senate is something that should be of interest to all parents of school age children, and Glenaeon parents in particular have a right to know how the current system has clearly disadvantaged our school. The proposed system, if enacted into law, will bring a measure of equity and will modestly improve our funding over the next decade, or sooner if the negotiations underway determine that.

On Tuesday there was an article in The Australian by the Head of another school which argued against the proposed bill because he believed it would discriminate against Catholic schools. I was moved to write a response to this article, in support of the legislation, because I believed that his points should be rebutted. I am including it in our Newsletter because there are figures in the third paragraph of which Glenaeon parents should be aware.

My colleague Mark Tannock is Head of St Aloysius College Milsons Point and in his opinion piece yesterday he makes a number of points. Our schools are about 10 minutes’ drive from each other on the lower north shore of Sydney. 

Mark’s three arguments are worth considering. Firstly, the issue is not whether Catholic schools are “overfunded” or “underfunded”, but whether some schools are overfunded, and some other schools are underfunded. Let’s look at St Aloysius and Glenaeon as a comparison. As well as location, we also share the same SES score of 125. In other words the Commonwealth has determined that both schools have an identical Capacity to Pay based on parental education levels and addresses.

Yet what a difference in the funding we both receive! St Aloysius receives $5,073 per student while we receive just $3,047. Based on our current enrolment numbers of 455 students, that is a difference of $920,000 between two schools that are judged to have identical socio-economic circumstances. Who can justify such inequality? 

Second, I would agree with Mark that the SES system is seriously flawed. Our parent body is well educated, has thought deeply about education, and made a choice based on those reflections. This background has little bearing on their capacity to pay for the education of choice for their children. It’s drawing a long bow to say they therefore are in the hugely better position to pay more than an SES score of 125 suggests.

Thirdly, the “historic nature of Catholic schools in this country” issue, ie as a system running parallel to the government system, opens an even bigger question for a secular, democratic, contemporary nation. The broader question of whether the state should be funding a “real choice for families of all backgrounds who want an education in the faith” (ie one faith). Why should the government be funding one community’s faith-based education, and not others?

Mark’s final points switch between the right of non-government and Catholic schools to receive funding as if they are interchangeable. He uses the argument that all parents of non-government students would support, their right to choice, to specifically justify the continuation of the special deals that has advantaged specifically Catholic schools. But this argument is a dated one, going back to the simplicities of the sixties and not recognising the vastly varied educational choices available today.

In the sixties when “state aid’ began, there was really only the government system and the Catholic system, plus some “sandstone” high end independent schools. Choice was limited. Today the educational landscape is vastly different with a huge variety of non-government independent schools ranging from my own Steiner school communities, to Montessori, a variety of Christian faith schools, Muslim, Jewish and many others. The AIS in NSW has over 400 member schools representing all of these schools of choice.

The Coalition has proposed a sea change of enormous scope that will finally bring education in Australia up to date and recognise that choice belongs to everyone, not only one denomination.