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Pell says school funding changes 'fit with church values'

Sydney's Cardinal George Pell has welcomed an additional $360 million dollars in federal funding for the Catholic school system, saying that the socio-economic funding model "fits in well with the church's concern to make education available to all Catholics".

He said the announcement was "great news for Catholic schools in Australia".

The cardinal was present at a Sydney Catholic school when Prime Minister John Howard announced details of the $12.6 billion four-year package for the nation's 1610 Catholic schools. News of the announcement had been leaked by the Labor Party on Saturday.

Mr Howard said every parent had a right to determine the type of education that would shape the upbringing of their children.

Nearly one in five students - more than 607,000 nationwide - attends a Catholic school.

The funding is a result of the Catholic Education Commission agreeing to join the funding model that currently applies to all other non-government schools.

The new arrangement means the Catholic schools will be assessed according to the Government's Socio Economic Status (SES) funding model for non-government schools.

This system calculates a score for each school based on where students live and each parent's job, income and educational background. Funding is then based on multiplying this score by the average cost of educating a student in a government school.

Cardinal Pell said the model ensures the extra support will go to schools that need it the most.

"The socio-economic funding model fits in well with the church's concern to make education available to all Catholics and especially to families on low incomes, who make up the bulk of our schools' clientele," he said.

Labor's education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, welcomed the additional money "for very needy Catholic schools" but criticised the Government for directing new funds at Catholic schools and not at the many other needy government and non-government schools.

The Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, has committed Labor to funding based on the needs of individual schools, public or private, although it is expected to retain the SES model in some form if it wins office.

Although Mr Howard claimed yesterday that the Catholic Church had made "the very significant decision" to join the SES model, there was one omission.

Unlike other non-government schools, which receive SES funds individually, the $12.6 billion will be paid directly to the church's educational hierarchy which will distribute it according to its own internal "needs" formula.

NSW Catholic schools will receive the largest share, $4.1 billion over the four years, and also the lion's share of the $362 million sweetener - about $120 million.

In Perth, Western Australian Catholic Education Office executive director Ron Dullard said the increase is welcome and would help Catholic schools to offer more affordable education from next year.

He said the office wanted to introduce a program that offered the children of parents with Health Care cards a place in Catholic schools for the same fee charged by the State Government.

These fees are $60 for primary students and a maximum of $135 for Years 8 to 10. The program is currently being tested in two Catholic schools in WA.

Fees at WA Catholic schools average about $600 a year for a primary student and $2300 a year for a high school student.

Mr Dullard said that in WA the money would be distributed to needier Catholic schools, which would especially benefit those in country areas.

The Australian Education Union has condemned the move as an outrage, with Federal President Pat Byrne saying it demonstrates the Howard government is not interested in supporting public schools. He predicts more parents will turn to the private sector as a result.

"The average parent would say that's where the money's going. They don't want their child to be in an under resourced system and so that will be fuelling the drift to the private sector. What I think is the most amazing part is that that drift hasn't been greater, given the amounts of funding that are now directed into the private sector."

School funding changes 'fit with church values' (ABC 29/2/04)
PM's $12.6bn will boost poorer schools (Sydney Morning Herald 1/2/04)
PM dangles $362m to Catholic schools (The Australian 1/3/04)
Catholic school fees fall to $60 (West Australian 1/3/04)
Labor backs Catholic schools boost (The Age 1/3/04)
Strike will open a wider campaign (The Age/AAP 1/3/04)
Unions criticise funding boost for Catholic schools (SBS 29/2/04)

Cardinal George Pell: Remarks in response to the Prime Minister's announcement (Archdiocese of Sydney)
Prime Minister | Catholic Schools Funding Announcement, Casimir Catholic College, Marrickville, Sydney, 29 February 2004 | Doorstop Interview, Casimir Catholic College, Marrickville, Sydney, 29 February 2004
PM dangles $362m to Catholic schools (The Australian/ 1/3/04)
Catholic school funding to rise by 50pc (The Advertiser 1/3/04)
Cash boost for Catholic schools (The Courier-Mail 1/3/04)
Teachers' strikes to hit 60,000 kids (Herald-Sun 1/3/04)
Battle lines chalked over school funding (Daily Telegraph 1/3/04)
Labor backs Catholic schools boost (The Age 1/3/04)
PM's $12.6bn will boost poorer schools (Sydney Morning Herald 1/3/04)
PM launches education package (The Sunday Age 29/2/04)
$360m boost for education (AAP/ 29/2/04)
PM defends education package (Courier-Mail 29/2/04)
Catholic schools negotiate $360m funding boost (ABC 29/2/04)
Catholic school funding should target needs: union (ABC 29/2/04)
National Catholic Education Commission
Catholic Education Office of Western Australia
Australian Education Union | AEU Response to the Australian Government's 'School Funding - The Facts'

30 Mar 2004