The schools use a ‘systemic’ or ‘block’ funding model, wherein public funding is delivered to the school system as a lump sum.
The systems are then required to distribute the funding according to a needs-basis model.
The Block Allocation Reports show the base SRS funding delivered to each school, but sections detailing additional loadings for Indigenous, low SES, low English-language proficiency and students with a disability have been redacted.
In explaining the decision to redact this information, the Education Department pointed to the possibility that information could be derived from the figures revealing the socio-economic status of students at specific schools.
The department claims that this information could “reasonably be expected to impact decisions by some parents and students with respect to whether to enrol at a particular school”, adversely affecting the schools by causing a decline in enrolment.
However, such information is freely available via ACARA, as is information on the number of Indigenous and ESL students enrolled at any given school.
The only relevant enrolment-related information that is not released publicly by ACARA is the number of students with a disability at a specific school.
The AOIC’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Guidelines state that information can be withheld if releasing it would cause an ‘unreasonable adverse effect’.
However, those same guidelines state that disclosure would not amount to an unreasonable adverse effect in situations where the information is already in the public domain.
Trevor Cobbold, national convenor of the activist group Save Our Schools, made the original FOI request for the release of the Block Allocation Reports.
He contends that the department’s explanation for redacting the reports is unsatisfactory and is seeking a review of the decision.
Cobbold said it would be difficult to determine student enrolment numbers from an overall monetary figure, given the variability of loadings within the specific categories.
“It just seems to me ludicrous that somehow parents can dissect block payments for each of these loadings, somehow indicating the socio-economic composition of schools, and then even make a decision based on that, when the enrolment information is available on My School,” he told EducationHQ.
A spokesperson for the National Catholic Education Commission pointed out that the methodologies used for funding distribution are already public.
“The Department of Education determines the release of its information,” the spokesperson said.
“The needs-based funding distribution methodologies used by Catholic education commissions are publicly available.
“All income and funding data is reported annually to government authorities and is subject to random audits.”
Cobbold said that the redactions are indicative of a “longstanding” issue with transparency in Catholic education systems.
“The Catholic education authorities have a long history of refusing to be accountable for how they spend taxpayer funds, and their response to the department's consultation about my request indicates that they are continuing that practice,” he said.
“There have been several official reports over the last decade that criticise the failure of private systems such as the Catholic education system to be accountable for how they spend taxpayer funding ... they are wedded to the practice of secrecy about how they use taxpayer funds, and it just hasn't changed.”
Cobbold said that the department has enabled Catholic education systems to practice “secrecy for its own sake”.
“I think the department has been giving a wink and a nod to accountability for over a decade or more.
"It's giving tacit approval to the fact that Catholic education authorities won't release the information.
“The official reports, such as the recent Parliamentary Joint Committee report and the Auditor-General's report, and the Gonski report, all criticise the failure of the department to effectively monitor what private school systems do with the money and the department constantly says it's making changes, but nothing seems to have happened.”