But Catholic Schools NSW boss Dallas McInerney said the email was about equipping schools and parents with information. They sent similar letters in hard copy before the last election. «It’s purely fact-based, there’s no voting recommendations,» he said.
The newsletter, The Pulse, will be sent to a 900-strong mailing list every week before the state election on March 23, which includes the state’s 600-odd Catholic school principals. Recipients are encouraged to send it to others, including parents.
The first issue says CSNSW played a «strategically critical» role in escalating the private school funding issue at a federal level last year, leading to a $4.6 billion deal that included a controversial $1.2 billion choice and affordability fund.
The missive spells out CSNSW’s wish-list for the election — more state funding to build and maintain its schools, equal or more funding for school operations, and equal or more religious freedom protections.
CSNSW would ask the major parties for their positions on capital funding, but would also liaise with minor parties such as One Nation, The Shooters and the Christian Democrats due to the «very real chance» of a hung Parliament in NSW, the newsletter said.
«We maintain engagement right across the Parliament,» Mr McInerney said. «I don’t think anyone should seek undue influence. If we were seeking to influence, we’d be hammering and engaging and talking to MPs.»
The newsletter highlighted the number of marginal seats that would be in play, and how many each of the parties needed to pick up to form government.
It also said education-related promises from the Coalition and Labor had focused on public schools. «CSNSW has contacted the major parties to remind them that the state government sets education policy for all school sectors, not just government schools,» it said.
But Professor Piccoli, now at the Gonski Institute for Education, said Catholic schools were in «much better physical condition than public schools, and have more resources and better facilities,» he said. «I would urge both parties to play it straight. The Catholic Church is not as powerful as it used to be.
«What they should be arguing for is not how do they get more money, but how do they get more low socio-economic, Indigenous, kids with disabilities into their schools? How do they satisfy the social justice agenda of the church, and relieve some of the burden that falls on low SES [socio-economic status] public schools?»
The president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Maurie Mulheron, said Catholic schools have often «used their principals to directly influence parents, unlike public school principals that have to be politically neutral».
As a registered charity, NSW Catholic Schools is allowed to advocate but cannot promote or oppose a political party or candidate for political office.
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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald