Labor leader Bill Shorten has accused the Turnbull government of lying to parents as he struggled to explain why Catholic schools would need to increase tuition fees five times more than planned funding cuts.
Mr Shorten visited St Thomas More’s Primary School in Canberra on Monday, one of the schools that has been told it will lose money over the next decade under the federal government’s new funding plan.
Government figures show the school losing a total $422 per student over the next decade, but in 2027 will still receive $5334 for each student.
Mr Shorten claimed the cut would mean a $5000 fee hike – forcing parents to pay more than $8000 a year.
Asked how that fee hike tallied with the cut, Mr Shorten accused the government of working from a “false baseline” of funding levels.
“The government has been lying to you about what the school is losing and gaining,” he told reporters at the school.
“Malcolm Turnbull wants some sort of gold medal because he is not cutting schools as much as Tony Abbott.”
Education Minister Simon Birmingham has repeatedly pointed out that, overall, Catholic schools will get an extra $1.2 billion over the next four years – an average growth rate of 3.7 per cent.
Despite the sector complaining of not being consulted, the minister says he’s had numerous meetings with representatives, as did his office and department.
“I was told, sitting in my office, that 3.5 per cent (growth) was what they expected, what they needed to keep up with costs,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News.
“We are delivering 3.7 per cent across the Catholic sector … as we make sure we get everybody to a common level.”
Catholic education director for the Canberra and Goulburn region Ross Fox says authorities were happy with 3.5 per cent growth when they thought every school would get the same.
In the ACT, 29 systemic Catholic schools would now have their funding trimmed 1.8 per cent, he said.
“That doesn’t make sense to us,” he told Sky News.
“Under this plan the government’s putting 150 per cent increase in funding over 10 years to ACT government schools, meanwhile Catholic schools often just across the road, same kids, going backwards two per cent.
“The government is prioritising government schools over non-government schools.”
The government has the backing of independent schools, including the Australian Association of Christian Schools, two of which are among the 24 that will have funding cut.
“Rather than join the line of critics from those affected … perspective, we’d like to loudly applaud a policy approach that is good for all schools and sectors and, as has been said, provides an the opportunity to put an end to the ridiculous school funding wars,” its head Martin Hanscamp wrote to Senator Birmingham.
The Greens are leaning toward supporting the government’s package but intend referring it for a Senate inquiry for scrutiny.