Cuts to NSW Independent school funding imminent

A bill slashing funding to Independent schools could be tabled before the end of the year. James O’Doherty reports

A bill slashing funding to Independent schools could be tabled before the end of the year. James O’Doherty reports

The NSW Government is under fire for proposed cuts to Independent school funding, after Education Minister Adrian Piccoli announced $67 million could be stripped from Independent and Catholic schools.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Piccoli said “no decision has been made about how savings will be achieved in the education portfolio”.

But Honi Soit has learned that proposals to cut funding have been discussed in cabinet. Sources say Mr Piccoli is likely to be preparing to bring an amendment bill to the House, probably before the end of the year.

The move has the potential to split the party, with some Liberal MPs saying they will cross the floor to vote against the cuts.

Dr Geoff Newcombe, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools, confirmed Catholic and Independent school representatives had been told by Mr Piccoli the funding restructure was indeed to go ahead.

He said independent schools are set to lose twice as much funding as Catholic schools thanks to the funding cutbacks.

Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Dr John Collier said any cuts to Independent school funding would flow on to affect Government schools.

“Many parents will withdraw their children from Independent schools and send them to government schools,” Dr Collier said in a joint-letter to Mr Piccoli and Premier Barry O’Farrell.

Under current funding arrangements, Independent schools receive about 25 per cent of the funding allocated to those in government schools per student.

Dr Collier said contrary to popular belief, most Independent schools don’t have the money to absorb these cuts.

“Many parents live on the cusp, scraping money together to send their children to low-fee Independent schools,” Dr Collier told Honi.

He said these schools would be facing fee increases of up to 20 per cent.

As fee increases push students to the public sector, these proposed cuts could end up costing the NSW Government more than they aim to save by the cuts.

“This could save the government some money in the short term but end up costing it a lot more,” said Stephen Grieve, President of the NSW Parents’ Council.

The government pays more per student in public education, so an increase to public school admissions would cost the government more than they would save.

It is understood there is palpable concern in the Liberal caucus that a Nationals MP has been given such free reign over education funding.

Honi has been told Cardinal George Pell met with the Premier and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, both Catholics, to raise concern with the proposal.

Cabinet was scheduled to have a regular meeting on Monday afternoon, after Honi Soit went to print. It was not known whether the issue would be discussed again.