Former NSW education minister Adrian Piccoli has called for a commission of inquiry into the way Catholic schools spend public money, saying as a practising Catholic he is "deeply disappointed" with their lack of transparency.
Mr Piccoli said even when he was responsible for approving $500 million in annual funding for Catholic schools in NSW, he had no idea how the money was spent.
He said the NSW Catholic Education Commission submitted a signed one-page form which unlocked $500 million.
"There is no transparency back to government about how Catholic schools spend half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money, there’s just a one-page form – we have no idea how that money is distributed," Mr Piccoli said.
Federal and state governments fund Catholic schools on a needs basis but hand the money to education commissions in each state in a lump sum, which is then distributed to schools around their states.
Mr Piccoli said a commission of inquiry was needed to uncover how public money was being spent in Catholic schools.
His comments come as it was revealed Catholic education authorities are short-changing needy schools to help keep fees low at schools in wealthy areas in Sydney.
"We fought very hard for needs-based funding but I am very disappointed that schools in greatest need in regional NSW are being short-changed to fund schools in more affluent areas of Sydney," Mr Piccoli said.
"As a Catholic, I am deeply disappointed because I expected as a Christian organisation, the Catholic schools would provide the money to the schools and children who need it the most."
Mr Piccoli released figures showing last year, MacKillop College in Bathurst received $836,844 less than its federal government allocation, and St John's College in Dubbo received $493,823 less than its allocation.
In comparison, Sacred Heart Catholic School in Pymble received $412,528 more than its allocation and St Fiacre's Catholic Primary School in Leichhardt received $301,763 above its allocation.
"I think Catholic parents in regional and rural NSW would be outraged when they see how funding is distributed to wealthy schools in Sydney ..." Mr Piccoli said.
The executive director of Catholic education in the Parramatta diocese, Greg Whitby, said the lack of clarity around the federal government's new funding model had left parents very anxious about possible fee rises.
The National Catholic Education Commission has estimated fees could increase by up to $6000 at some schools.
Mr Whitby disputed claims that some schools were running large surpluses at the expense of others.
"That is simply not true. Every year, we set aside funds to build new schools in areas of high demand," Mr Whitby said.
"While we are grateful for the small amount of government money we receive to build new schools, we have to meet the costs of land purchase as well as building and development costs. A single secondary school costs more than $50 million. We also need to renovate and renew existing schools."
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