There’s an adage in sport that says ‘play the ball, not the man’. It means that despite opposing views, all sides should be mature enough to debate the issues rather than launch personal attacks. The recent debate over a new funding model and what it will mean for the Catholic education sector has seen a lot of ‘playing the man’.
The Catholic education sector has been accused of robbing the poor to pay the rich while the Turnbull Government has been accused of taking money from schools and not consulting with those responsible for the delivery of schooling. As history has shown, this kind of language achieves little. It simply distracts from the work of creating better schools.
In Australia, successive governments have continued to increase funding for education. Recently, the Prime Minister announced an additional $19 billion would go into education over the next decade. That commitment to funding all systems (government and non-government) is a recognition not only of the contribution all schools make to their communities but the right of parents to make a choice.
What the new funding arrangements will mean for Catholic schools and families is still not entirely clear although there has been progress of late. I am particularly pleased that fears in the past week of large fee increases for some families are starting to dissipate.
There remain a number of issues that still need to be addressed before Catholic school leaders can feel confident with the new model. One is the the use of the Socio Economic Score (SES) to determine how much funding each school will receive. This coarse-grain analysis ignores the fact that you can have families with high and low incomes living in the same SES catchment. David Gonski and successive governments have realised that we need a better indicator or a finer-grain analysis for developing equitable funding models. I agree with him.
The other major issue is the importance of enshrining in the legislation the capacity of systems to redistribute resources to where they are most needed. That is the strength of the Catholic education system. We all know that it is at the local level that need is best determined.
In reality, no funding model is ever going to tick all the boxes. Hopefully sensible discussion will follow in the months ahead based on what we all agree on. Firstly, there must be a base level of funding that goes to every child in Australia. Secondly, that we address equity through clear and transparent processes that provide additional funding to children and schools in greatest need.
Polarising the debate does not score educational goals – the wisdom has to come from the middle.