SYDNEY, Australia – Catholic schools in Australia could see an increase of up to $74 million a year from independent schools following a new review proposing better use of data to rank families’ socioeconomic status.

The proposal drew praise from Catholic schools and raised some concerns from independent schools.

Ray Collins, acting executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission, said the commission was “very pleased” that the National School Resourcing Board “has recognized the inherent inequities with the current methodology.” The commission looks forward to “a new approach to ensure fair and equitable funding for non-government schools,” he said in a July 6 statement.

Collins said the report agreed with the commission’s long-standing view that the ranking methodology was “fundamentally flawed and negatively impacts a significant number of Catholic schools, as well as some independent schools.”

The socioeconomic status review board has said measures of parents’ capacity to pay for schools must become more precise and should use a “direct measure” of their income from tax and census data. This would affect the amount of government funding from 2020 onwards, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports.

The move could shift $74 million to Catholic schools, at a time when Catholic school systems have made strong objections to the distribution in an $18.2 billion funding package passed by the center-right Liberal-National Coalition in Parliament.

Australian education minister Simon Birmingham said the vast majority of projected school funding is not affected by the review, though he said the report made a strong case for a more precise formula.

“An effective measure of a school community’s capacity to contribute is essential to ensure the greatest taxpayer support is allocated towards those school communities with the least capacity to pay school fees,” Birmingham said. “This approach puts school choice within reach of as many parents and families as possible.”

Colette Colman, executive director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, was critical. She said the review’s proposal represented a “significant change” in methodology and said significant work was needed to determine “whether it would produce accurate and valid information at the individual school level.”

“The independent sector must be assured that any direct measure will be significantly more accurate and will be consistently applied to all non-government schools,” Colman said.

Both the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia said more work was needed to create and test the new formula.

Despite being generally favorable to the proposed changes, Collins said a new methodology could be inaccurate in reckoning the socioeconomic status of parents of students at long-established Catholic schools in metropolitan areas that charge low fees, possibly harming these schools’ funding.

He said the commission will consider the report in more detail. Collins voiced appreciation for the Minister of Education’s willingness “to engage in further conversation regarding the
recommendations with both the Catholic and Independent sectors.”

The report suggested that the total private income of schools, including their fees, should not be included in the formula because this would “double count” parents’ income.

However, it cited new availability of privacy-protected data about parents’ income and “confidentialized” census data to create a better-targeted measure for school funding.

Though household wealth as such cannot be considered at present, it could be added to the calculation if suitable data become available.