Federal Incentive to Reopen Catholic Schools

It seemed like there was a developing sense of ‘new normal’ as schools across the state made peace with the remote learning environment. That was until yesterday when private school leaders were faced with yet another conflict. As many of you are no doubt aware, the Federal Government, in short, has offered independent schools 25% of Federal annual funding ‘up front’ if the school reopens and commits to achieving 50% of their student on-site attendance by 1 June 2020.

Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, has written to the independent schools’ peak body and to the National Catholic Education Commission offering this payment as a way of supporting cash flow issues.

Schools as Political Battleground

The announcement has been met with significant criticism and has many school leaders feeling that they have yet again been put in an unfair position.
Federal Government Position? 
The Federal Government has made no secret of the fact that they want schools to be open. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has consistently advocated that the risks associated with keeping schools open is low and that in any case, the benefit of continuing education outweighs the risks presented. The Federal Government’s latest offer is consistent with this position.
“What we want to do is incentivise all schools across the nation to meet our goal of being open and teaching students in the classroom by the end of May.”
Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan
Victorian State Government Position?
Despite the Federal Government’s push, the Victorian Government has stood strong on remote learning for term two where possible.
“We can guess, or we can have an abundance of caution and I’m happy to be criticised for being cautious in this. I know what’s at stake,”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has echoed that State schools will not be influenced by the Federal  Government announcement. Having regard to independent schools, however, Mr. Merlino said the Federal Government was putting independent schools in a conflict between choosing funding and choosing to follow Victorian health advice.

What do you do?

With only two days to decide, as the deadline to opt in has been set for Friday May 1, many independent schools are feeling conflicted and confused. Ultimately each independent school must decide what is best for them as only they can assess their financial situation. Victorian schools have been left particularly confused as the State has held steadfast in its recommendation for remote learning. In effect, the Federal Government is using a financial incentive to entice independent Victorian schools to go against the advice of the State Governments health authorities.

Importantly for Catholic schools, CECV has not changed in its advice to follow the lead of the state.

CECV’s positions remains that:
“On the advice of the Victorian Chief Health Officer, the CECV advises that all Victorian Catholic schools transition to remote and flexible learning arrangements for Term 2. This is an evolving situation and therefore advice to school communities may change at short notice. Parents should pay attention to all information and advice from their child’s school relating to their community’s response to coronavirus.”  (Current as of 28 April 2020 (12.00 pm))

How can Brennan Law Partners assist?

Brennan Law Partners is here to assist you throughout managing the Covid-19 situation and beyond. If you are concerned about the closure of your school, need to review or update your policies, need to respond to an enquiry or concern, or are hesitant about appropriate steps to take in a given situation please contact us by email so we may support you.

If you have any questions regarding any information in this BLP Brief, we welcome you to contact us at any time.

This is meant as a guide only and should not be taken as legal advice.

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