Special Over-Funding Deal for ACT Catholic Systemic Schools to Continue

The Turnbull Government has done a back-flip on its promise to abolish all special funding deals for private schools. The Commonwealth Department of Education has announced that the special funding deal for ACT Catholic systemic schools will be maintained for another four years as a “temporary” assistance package. It will cost the taxpayer about $200 million. It took only four weeks for the Government to cave in to Catholic school demands to keep their massive over-funding.

Catholic systemic schools in Canberra are vastly over-funded by the Commonwealth Government. In 2016, the over-funding amounted to $50 million. Several schools are over-funded by more than $4 million each. Two schools are getting over four times what they are entitled to and several others are getting over double their entitlement. Several receive $5,000 per student or more in over-funding.

The Good Shepherd School (comprising primary and secondary students) received the most over-funding at $7.5 million in 2016 [see Chart 1 below]. The Holy Spirit PS was over-funded by $2.3 million, Sts. Peter and Paul’s PS by $1.8 million, Holy Trinity PS by $1.6 million and St. Joseph’s by $1.2 million. The four Catholic systemic secondary schools (Merici, St. Clare’s, St. Mary McKillop’s and St. Francis Xavier) were over-funded by $4-6 million each.

St. Bede’s and St. Thomas’ were over-funded by a massive 333% [Chart 2]. Sts. Peter and Paul’s was over-funded by 241% while Holy Trinity and St. Joseph’s were over-funded by 181%. Merici and St. Clare’s secondary schools were over-funded by 109% each.

The largest over-funded schools in per student funding were St. Bede’s and St. Thomas More’s with over-funding of $6,617 per student [Chart 3]. Sts. Peter and Paul’s was over-funded by $6,080 per student while Holy Trinity and St. Joseph’s were over-funded by $5,543 each. Merici and St. Clare’s were the largest over-funded secondary schools at $4,973 each.

This over-funding is the result of a special deal negotiated with the Catholic Church by the previous Labor Government to gain Catholic support for the Gonski 1.0 funding plan. The deal allows ACT Catholic schools to get much more funding than they would otherwise be entitled to under a strict application of needs-based funding.

Commonwealth Government funding of private schools is set as a certain percentage of the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) according to the capacity to pay of the school community. This is determined by a measure of the socio-economic status (SES) of the community. Schools with a lower SES score receive more government funding; schools with a high SES score receive less.

The special deal for ACT Catholic schools was that their system SES score was negotiated at 101 even though every Catholic systemic school has an individual SES score that is much higher, ranging from 111 to 128, the latter score being at the upper end of school SES scores. Their average system score is actually 116.

The disparities between these scores and the deemed system score of 101 has a huge effect on nominal funding for schools. For example, St. Bede’s Primary School in Red Hill should be funded at 20% of the base SRS if it were funded according to its SES score of 128. However, its actual funding under the special deal is 86.5% of the base SRS. As a result, the school was over-funded by nearly $1 million in 2016, or 333% as noted above. St. Thomas More Primary School in Campbell with an SES score of 128 has a similar level of over-funding.

As a result, high SES Catholic systemic schools are funded much more than other private schools on the same SES scores. For example, Independent schools on the same SES score as St. Bede’s and St. Thomas More are funded at 20% of the SRS instead of 88.5%. This is a massive distortion in the funding arrangements.

Over-funding of high SES Catholic schools is a gross corruption of the principle of needs-based funding. Their Commonwealth funding bears no relationship to the needs-based formula. It is the result of a shonky political deal with the Catholic Church that will be maintained for another four years and there is no guarantee it won’t continue after that.

Trevor Cobbold

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