||Australia's Catholic schools are a national asset. As such, fair and equitable funding is the essential foundation for all Australian schools, including Catholic schools.
Read the National Catholic Education Commission's (NCEC) document Funding Principles for Catholic Schools.
Funding of Catholic Schools: An Historical Overview
For as long as anyone cares to remember,
Catholic education has been mired in debates over the allocation of
resources, though the provision of stable funding for Catholic schools
since the 1970s has enabled Catholic schools to move beyond considerations
of survival to issues of quality provision.
Victoria was the first
colony to introduce its Education Act in 1872. Education was to be
'free, compulsory and secular' and the limited funding available for
denominational schools was abolished. Other colonies followed in quick
The hierarchy of the
Catholic church was committed to schooling which integrated religious and
general education. This position left them with little choice but to
establish their own schools. The reliance on religious orders and the
contributions of parishioners were sufficient to maintain basic provision
in Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
however, population increases due to the post-World War II baby boom and
the high number of Catholics amongst immigrants put the system under
severe strain. While government schools were faced with similar enrolment
pressures, the situation in Catholic schools was exacerbated by growing
staff shortages, large class sizes, insufficient and often inadequate
buildings, and the low salaries of lay staff.
Catholic system was at breaking point and hard decisions
had to be taken. The issue of State Aid was back on the agenda, bringing
with it much strongly contested public and political positioning.
For the year 1964-65 and subsequent
years, Liberal Prime Minister Menzies offered Commonwealth scholarships
for students in government and non-government schools and made grants to
all secondary schools for the building of science blocks. This was
followed by secondary schools grants for the building of libraries. By the
mid-1960s individual state governments were offering modest direct grants
to Catholic schools.
The 1972 election of
the Whitlam Government saw the establishment of the Karmel Committee to
report on the educational needs of all Australian schools. The parlous
state of Catholic schools was described as a 'national disgrace' in its
1973 report. The Karmel Report recommended a common resource standard for
all schools and the establishment of a General Recurrent Grants scheme
which was weighted in favour of need and equality. The outcome was a
desperately needed injection of funds to all schools and to Catholic
schools in particular, as well as the promise of funding stability. The
funding saved parishes and schools from serious financial trouble and
allowed schools to meet the expanding needs of its communities with
relative security and confidence.
Not all were happy with this funding
arrangement and they took their grievance to the High Court. The Defence
of Government Schools (DOGS) case in 1980 occupied the legal system for
the best part of the year. It reflected the residual sectarianism in
Australian society. The DOGS case challenged the validity of
several of the statutes enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament. The High
Court by a majority dismissed the suit of the plaintiffs. The
constitutional validity of the Commonwealth's funding of Catholic schools
In recent decades Catholic and
Independent schools have benefited from the ongoing commitment of the
major political parties to partially resourcing a 'dual' (government and
non-government) system of education. However, despite significant progress
in partnership with Commonwealth and State governments regarding a fair
share of public funding (rather than 'state aid'), Catholic education's
public funding base requires clarity and definition.
Of the range of
issues for settlement between Commonwealth and State governments, one is
the basis on which recurrent funds are allocated. Socio-economic models
have informed needs-based funding approaches in the past, however, there
is disquiet regarding current approaches both at federal and state levels.
Also critical for the Catholic sector's long-term growth and certainty is
a greater degree of community and government consensus on appropriate
levels of capital funding from the public purse, and on appropriate levels
of private fees/contributions. Catholic education authorities are
concerned that all Catholics have a choice of school, and that this choice
is a real one which is not dictated by the state of a family's economics.
Internationally there exists
a variety of funding and regulatory arrangements for Catholic schools,
often shaped by constitutional and historical factors. In some countries
such as New Zealand, Belgium and Canada, Catholic schools have been
integrated fully into the government school system and have for the most
part successfully retained their identity. By and large, however, the
position that Catholic education currently holds in Australia with regard
to autonomy, funding, regulation and governance is viewed both here and
internationally as being highly preferred and privileged.