If you thought we would see the end of the school funding wars with the introduction of a fairer, needs-based funding model, think again, writes National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins. Source: The Age.
It’s been nearly two decades since Mark Latham’s “hit list” contributed to Labor’s loss of the 2004 election and seven years since the Turnbull government’s 10-year funding plan would have resulted in 500 Catholic schools being worse off. The revised school funding model that was introduced in 2017, based on the recommendations of the Gonski review, was meant to put an end to the divisive public versus “private” funding debate.
Now we have Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews targeting a handful of schools to help repay the state’s COVID-19 debt by removing payroll tax exemptions that are rightly in place to ensure non-government schools aren’t bearing costs their state counterparts do not carry.
As a key player in these debates over two decades, as a former senator and now as head of the National Catholic Education Commission, I attribute many of these nonsensical policy decisions over the years to a general lack of understanding of the complexity of school funding in Australia.
Too often the debate is railroaded by “experts” highlighting a few “elite” school stereotypes with mentions of heated swimming pools and annual fees of $20,000 plus, when the reality is most non-government schools serve a broad and diverse cross-section of the community.
In part, it’s the principle that is enshrined in international law that every child in Australia is entitled to a free, compulsory education.
The Victorian Government’s removal of payroll tax exemptions essentially erodes that right by forcing some schools to pay a tax that other non-profit community services – and state schools – do not.
School funding is highly complex and is regulated under federal legislation and national agreements between the federal government and states and territories. Any arbitrary decisions outside of these frameworks, as in the case of the Victorian payroll tax, not only set a precedent for other states and territories, but also have the potential to significantly affect a carefully calculated and considered needs-based funding formula.