I wasn't sure whether to write this particular post or not. I have been contacted in the past by the Catholic Education Office and by NZ Catholic and even by a Bishop when they have read things I've written that they want to share more widely. I think it's awesome that "people in high places" are reading Being Frank and can be so encouraging of what is said here.
Having said that, knowing who's reading my words sometimes makes it harder for me to stick my head up above the parapet. But this particular issue is bugging me so much that it's time to just say it and hope that the "powers that be" don't take too much offense.
As my faithful readers will know, I've just recently moved schools. My old school was a Decile 7 school and my new school is Decile 3. For those who aren't sure what deciles are, a simple explanation is that they are a rating of the school's socio-economic standing. The lower the number, the poorer the school. 1a is the lowest (think Mangere and Manurewa) and 10 is the highest (think Remuera and Ponsonby).
What's really, really bugging me is that regardless of decile rating, the Catholic school fees remain the same. In my diocese they are $99 per term. For families in a decile 10 area this is a small drop in the ocean, for families at my new school it is a huge sacrifice. And, at risk of sounding like a three-year-old, it's just not fair.
Sure, the Diocese offers assistance to those who need it, but certainly not without first putting people through the wringer. It takes a very humble person to be able to come, cap in hand, to a school principal and admit that they can't afford the school fees. It takes even greater humility to fill out the forms needed outlining the reasons why. The Diocese assistance is designed as a temporary stop-gap, however for many parents this is not a temporary problem and when you can see into your child's eight-year future at primary school, and know that there will likely never be a time when you can afford the fees, it is easier to just send them to the free school that , in my case, is literally right across the road. Sure, these parents want a Catholic education for their children, but when they can't afford it they are willing to give their child the Catholic side of things themselves at home. As an aside, in my diocese at least, there are no discounts for big families. The cost is per child, no exceptions. So, a family of three children are looking at a cost of $1200 per year.
The true injustice of the situation is that each school's property projects are funded directly in relation to the amount of school fees they generate. In Hamilton for example, there is one particularly high decile school that (because the parents are high-earners) has a huge roll. They, therefore, generate much more money than another Catholic school in Hamilton that is in a low decile area. This school has no hope of attracting the same numbers as the high decile school simply because the people who live nearby can not afford the fees – so this school's roll remains small and, therefore, they don't generate as much revenue, which in turn means that they get less money for property projects. They are also unable to generate anything like the significant amounts made by large high decile schools in their fundraising efforts. Again, the only way to put it is that it is simply not fair.
As Catholics we are meant to have a great concern for the poor in our society. In fact our new Pope tells us that the measure of society can be found in how it treats its poor, I say that the measure of a Catholic School system can also be found in how it treats its poor. And it's time to level out the playing field.