Canberra's Catholic school fees set to rise

A Canberra paper says that fees for ACT Catholic schools are set to rise by upwards of 8 per cent in 2007 - with extra charges facing parents of more than child at primary schools.

The Canberra Times reports that the ACT Catholic Education Office will advise principals next month of fees for the 2007 school year.

But while the charges are yet to be set, the newspaper believes that they will increase by at least 8 per cent in contrast to Sydney where Archbishop George Pell last week stepped in to limit Sydney fee increases to 2.2 per cent because of fears that lower income families are being priced out of Catholic schools.

ACT Catholic Education Office finance and planning head John Barker last week ruled out a cap, according to the Times, saying the sector was under increased pressure from rising student and school operating costs, while attracting the nation's lowest levels of Commonwealth and local government funding.

Fees for parents with more than one child at a Catholic primary school, who have traditionally been charged a single attendance rate, will also increase by a maximum of $487. In the past three years rises at Canberra's 23 primary and four secondary Catholic systemic schools have ranged between 8 and 8.7 per cent.

In an attempt to claw back revenue and limit fee growth, from next year the body will introduce extra charges for families with more than one child at Catholic primary schools.

From 2007 parents will face full fees for their first child, 30 per cent of this charge for their second, and 20 per cent for the third. The fourth child will be free.

Based on 2006 rates, the changes mean a family with three children at a primary school would pay an extra $487 a year.

There are 13,069 pupils at Canberra Catholic systemic schools, comprising 21.7 per cent of all territory students.

Mr Barker said levels of government funding for Canberra Catholic schools were the nation's lowest.

The ACT Government contributed about 20 per cent of schools' overall funding this year, a figure indexed to territory inflation, which was 4.8 per cent in the year to June, the Times claims.

But with the national inflation rate for education services at 5.8 per cent, funding was inadequate. The ACT Government had yet to deliver on a pre-election promise to review indexation.

ACT Catholic schools attract about 60 per cent of their revenue from Federal Government.

But Mr Barker said the ACT, with its homogeneously high-earning population, was unfairly penalised by its current funding model, which based allocations on the socio-economic status of a student's neighbourhood. The Federal Government is now reviewing the model and has received a submission from the National Catholic Education Commission.

However, there are no plans to review the ACT Government's funding formula for private schools, the Times reports.

Breaking News - Canberra Times exaggerates: Catholic Education Commission

In a sharp response, Catholic Education Commission chair, Daryl Smeaton describes the Canberra Times report of fees soaring as a "gross exaggeration".

"The ACT Catholic Education Commission will make a recommendation to Archbishop Mark Coleridge on Catholic school tuition fees for 2007 following its next meeting," Mr Smeaton says.

"The reported change from a family fee to a per student fee in Catholic primary schools has been made to distribute the cost of education more equitably. The Commission recognises the impact of school fees on families and will aim to keep any increase to a minimum."

According to Mr Smeaton, the article rightly points out that the ACT Catholic Schools system receives the lowest level of per student funding from the Commonwealth and Territory/State Governments. However, it "incorrectly implies that the ACT Government indexes funding by 4.8%", he says.

"This was the Territory's official inflation rate for the last financial year but the Government only applies indexation on the basis of its original estimate of inflation which was 2.5%."

"The Commission trusts that the reported comment by Education Minister Andrew Barr that 'There were no plans to review the ACT Government's funding formula for private schools' is also a reporting error as a review of the funding formula was one of the [ACT] Government's commitments to Catholic school parents prior to the last election," Mr Smeaton concluded.

Catholic schools' fees to soar (Canberra Times, 15/9/06)
Media Release (Catholic Education Commission, Canberra, 18/9/06)

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Catholic Education Office Canberra-Goulburn

18 Sep 2006