Vic Govt dismisses Catholic schools funding push

Victorian state treasurer John Brumby has rejected criticism by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart over funding for Catholic schools, saying that the government has increased funding by 30 per cent in the last four years.

Archbishop Hart had earlier warned that Labor's lack of support was jeopardising the future of Catholic education, the The Australian reports.

"We really feel that we need a big injection of capital funding, because our schools are declining in their maintenance and things like that, and we need also an increase of recurrent funding," Archbishop Hart told the ABC's AM program yesterday.

"The State Government gives us about 16 per cent of our total and that needs to be built up to a level which is a bit closer to some of the other States, which would be about 23, 24, 25 per cent" he said.

He said the Bracks Government's financial support for the state's 181,000 Catholic students was the lowest in Australia, forcing schools to raise fees, increase class sizes and push low-income families out of Catholic schools and into the government system.

The private school teachers' union backed Archbishop Hart's call, saying that Catholic schools were running "on the smell of an oily rag", but said many independent schools were also struggling.

"We want to see an acknowledgement from the parties that needy Catholic and non-government schools in Victoria are underfunded," Deb James, general secretary of the Victorian Independent Education Union told the Age.

The Association of Independent Schools of Victoria also called for more equity in funding for the non-government sector. "There needs to be a focus in this election on education, and not just public education," said chief executive Michelle Green.

But Victorian Treasurer John Brumby said he was surprised by the criticism, saying the Government agreed last year to provide extra funds to non-government schools.

"We announced a significant increase in funding for the needier non-government schools and the biggest beneficiary of that was, in fact, the Catholic system," Mr Brumby said.

"Over a four-year period, we increased funding. It was 30 per cent higher than when it started. I think a 30 per cent increase is a substantial increase."

Mr Brumby said Archbishop Hart had received the news of last year's funding "warmly and gratefully so I'm not sure what's changed in ... 12 months".

He ruled out any funding increase, saying Labor had committed a further $30 million for building grants to non-government schools at this week's campaign launch.

Archbishop Hart wrote to Premier Steve Bracks and Mr Baillieu, setting out the church's concerns.

But Mr Baillieu said yesterday he had not seen the letter. "I'm happy to have a look at it," the Opposition Leader said. "The more support we can give to schooling the better. I don't have a problem with that, but you have to be responsible about it and we'll see what we can do."

However, Archbishop Hart ruled out recommending a vote for either party based on what they promise for Catholic schools.

"I would hesitate to do anything other than to keep on putting the needs, because I believe the voice of the people is very important and it's a fundamental right that we Australians value, that people will elect the appropriate representatives and we've got to respect that and we will work with that," he told AM.

Leaders lukewarm to Catholic plea on schools (The Australian, 17/11/06)
Melbourne Archbishop wants more funding for Catholic schools (ABC AM, 16/11/06)
Catholic schools cry out for more cash (The Age, 16/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
State Election 2006 (Melbourne CEO)

Vic Catholic schools funding at historic low (CathNews, 13/11/06)
Study shows fees forcing poor students out of Catholic schools (CathNews, 2/3/04)

17 Nov 2006