Story from the Sunday Age.
The Labor government's contentious guarantee of special funding to private schools blindsided the experts selected by the party to shape its education policy.
Leaked minutes of the March meeting of Labor's education policy committee reveal internal frustration over the surprise legislation that guaranteed Catholic and independent schools 25 per cent of the state government funding given to public schools.
Critics of the guarantee say it is at odds with the principles of the Gonski model, which seeks to make school funding needs based and blind to the public or private status of schools.
The guarantee was promised to the Catholic Education Office just days before the November election.
It has fuelled concern within the wider labour and public education movements about the influence of the Catholic Education Office and the conservative shop assistants union (SDA).
"The influence of the SDA and other Catholic interests in the ALP, including the education minister, meant that the ALP was very receptive to the demands of the Catholic Education Office for more advantageous funding arrangements before the election," said Trevor Cobbold, spokesman for state schools lobby Save Our Schools.
Education Minister James Merlino is the most senior of the state Labor MPs linked to the Catholic-led SDA, Australian Labor's largest union affiliate.
The leaked minutes reveal Mr Merlino being questioned, with one committee member "amazed" his committee had not been consulted about the guarantee.
So, too, does the committee member describe the guarantee as "contrary to what we [the ALP] are trying to achieve [in education]".
As The Age reported in March, the guarantee was slammed as a betrayal of the Gillard government's Gonski reforms by Ken Boston AO, a member of the Gonski review panel.
The Australian Education Union's relationship with the Andrews government has also soured over the guarantee to private school funding.
"Funding of schools should be above politics, including the politics of public and private schools," said AEU president Meredith Peace on Saturday.
"It is concerning that the Andrews government has chosen to fragment funding into different sectors. We need funding certainty for those kids most in need"
Connections are close between the SDA, the ALP and the Catholic Education Office, the key lobby group that pushed for the 25 per cent guarantee.
New Pascoe Vale MP Lizzie Blandthorn is a former SDA official who worked at the Catholic Education Office immediately prior to her election to Parliament in November
In a letter to Catholic school parents just days before the election, Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder told school parents in Victoria that both Labor and the Coalition had promised the 25 per cent guarantee.
On Saturday, The Age revealed how the SDA pays major employers, including Coles and Woolworths, up to $5 million a year in commissions for administering payroll deduction of union dues.
The close relationship between the union and employers helps the SDA maintain its 200,000-plus membership and, therefore, its influence in the Labor Party.
The SDA plays a major role in social policy debates at the state and federal level, including on the simmering issue of same sex marriage.
When elected, the Andrews government included about nine SDA-linked MPs – although a recent internal spat may have reduced that number – including four cabinet ministers.
A spokesman for the Minister for Education said: "The Andrews Labor Government's commitment to Catholic and Independent schools has evolved since it was first raised under Premier John Brumby in 2010. It was announced before the election in 2014.
"Thirty-eight per cent of Victorian students attend a Catholic or Independent school and we want to give every child, every chance to receive the best education in our state. This funding is allocated through the Financial Assistance Model – a needs based funding mode."