Schools caught in the middle of political feud
QUEENSLAND Education Minister Grace Grace has slammed the Federal Government's offer to advance $3 billion in funding for private schools if they reopen, saying it reeks of desperation.
The Federal Government on Tuesday night offered up to $3 billion in advance funding to independent and Catholic schools, a 25 per cent advance on next year's federal funding.
The peak body for independent schools in Queensland said the offer put it in a difficult position, and both Catholic and independents school bodies have told schools to follow the State Government's advice to stay closed except for children of essential workers.
Ms Grace said federal Education Minister Dan Tehan's announcement reeked of desperation.
"Private schools should not be made to choose between the health advice and funding from the Federal Government," she said.
"The confusing, irresponsible and inconsistent messaging from Canberra and the LNP is creating unnecessary anxiety and stress during this global health pandemic.
"Federal funding should be fast-tracked to all schools to help them through this crisis but it shouldn't be conditional on matching the Federal Government's agenda."
She said the State Government's stance on schools has been consistent with health advice and the seven principles agreed by the National Cabinet, while the Federal Government had changed its position "many times".
"First it was keep class sizes smaller," she said.
"Then it was have all students back by the arbitrary date of June 1.
"Now it's have 50 per cent back by the end of May."
But Mr Tehan said the Commonwealth's position had been consistent that schools were safe for students and teachers with the right protocols in place, and the push to return by the end of May was in line with the National Cabinet.
"If any schools choose not to take up this offer, they will still get their money in July," he said.
Mr Tehan said the push for all students to be back by June was because indigenous, rural and regional students and those from low socio-economic backgrounds and with a language background other than English would suffer the most from not being in school.
"And we don't want parents to have to choose between staying at home and supervising their children's education, or going to work," he said.
The first advance-funding payment of 12.5 per cent would come in May if schools had a plan to have teachers in classrooms teaching all year levels by the end of month, and the second 12.5 per cent later if they had half of students back by June 1.
It came as the Federal Government and state premiers - particularly those in Victoria, NSW and Queensland which have adopted remote learning - clashed over whether schools should be open for all students.
The advance funding equates up to $1.6 billion for Catholic schools and $1.4 billion for independent schools, and comes amid mounting pressure on state governments to allow all students to go back to classrooms.
In a statement, Independent Schools Queensland welcomed the Federal government's funding offer but said the conditions on reopening for all students put private schools in a difficult position.
Independent Schools Queensland advised its schools to adhere to the State Government's position on schools.
"The offer of the Federal Government does not account for the legal obligations of independent schools in Queensland, which include Public Health Directives, Workplace Health and Safety laws and the common law duty of care that independent schools must comply with," ISQ executive director David Robertson said.
The Queensland Catholic Education Commission also said Catholic schools would adhere to the State Government's ruling that schools be open for at-risk children and those of essential workers.
State Opposition education spokesman Jarrod Bleijie welcomed the Federal Government's move, saying it followed health advice and opening schools would restart the economy.
"We can't let a health crisis cost our kids a year of their education - particularly our senior students, who are preparing for life after school," he said.
But Ms Grace said the LNP was selective in quoting Australian Health Protection Principal Committee medical advice, with its position changing between parents having the choice to send their children and schools being open for everyone.
Originally published as Schools caught in the middle of fed-state feud