Federal Government’s Funding Boost for Sydney’s Scientology School

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The front gate to the Athena School in Sydney’s Inner West. (Photo by: Allison Hore)

An inner-west school associated with the Church of Scientology will receive a 75% increase in federal government funding over the next 10 years, according to the government’s school funding estimator.

The Athena School in Newtown is an independent co-ed kindergarten to grade 10 school. According to the school’s website its philosophies are based on the “Way to Happiness” manual, and study methods designed by Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard.

To use the methods the school must pay 4% of their overall profit to Applied Scholastics International, which advertises itself as “a non-profit educational organization”. This organisation is run by The Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE), a group founded by the Church of Scientology.

American scientology expert, Rick Ross, says “the Athena School and Applied Scholastics are simply a useful way for Scientology to recruit new members or market itself through what can be seen as a front organisation or program.”

Though the school is legally separate to the Church of Scientology, the principal, Fiona Milne, made headlines last year for appearing in a video promoting Scientology alongside students from the school. In the video she mentions how scientology inspired her to help establish the school.

Government Funding

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Estimated federal government funding per student in 2017, 2018 and 2027. (Data from: Australian Government, School Funding Estimator)

The Athena School will receive $7,124 per student in federal government funding this year. This is almost triple that of the most highly funded government school in the area, Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, which will receive $2,586 per student this year.

Funding for the Athena School, and another school in Victoria affiliated with scientology, came under scrutiny last year after a report by the Sydney Morning Herald made the difference in funding public.

However, according to government estimates the funding will skyrocket to $12,490 per student over the next ten years. This increase of 75% is markedly higher than the 59% increase in funding for government schools in the same area.

Information on the Good Schools Guide website shows tuition fees for students range from $9,720 to $11,200 per year. Other scientology affiliated organisations also sponsor the school.

The funding increase is part of the Coalition government’s new budget, which is set to invest an additional $300 million into “disadvantaged non-government schools” over the next ten years to help them provide good quality infrastructure and resources.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Training says that, “All schools will receive their fair share within a decade. The schools that are the furthest behind will receive the fastest increase in funding.”

“The base per student amount is supplemented with loadings for Indigenous students, students with a disability, English language proficiency, socio-educational disadvantage, school size and location.”

The Athena School had a total of 33 students enrolled last year. There were no indigenous students, 12 students had a non-English language background, and most students were considered middle class.

State member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, says the Greens support the original Gonski formula and believe state government funding should be allocated to public schools

“The government should implement the full six years of the National Education Reform Agreement’s promised increase in funding for public education,” she says, “public education should be funded so that it is free and so that every student in a public facility receives the highest quality education.”

Fiona milne scientology

Fiona Milne as she appears on a video promoting Scientology alongside students from the Athena School. (Source: Scientology Video Channel)

The estimator shows only funding from the federal government, with most of the funding for public schools coming from state governments. Fiona Milne says that when this is considered the levels of funding are fair.

“Every student is entitled to government funding to support their education and it is absolutely reasonable for this funding to be indexed to keep pace with the rising costs of education,” says Ms. Milne.

“As a stand-alone independent school, we also have to meet all of the other costs of running a school that are not incurred by schools that are part of a large system.”

Rick Ross says that the school’s relationship with Scientology means that it shouldn’t receive any government funding.

“Scientology is a very controversial organisation with a deeply troubled history of complaints, personal injury lawsuits and bad press. Certainly, there must be less controversial schools and programs for the Australian government to support through public funds.”

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