March 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

More than 200 Australian public schools have decided to hire secular welfare workers instead of chaplains to provide counseling services to students.

According to a report in the Canberra Times, the schools are taking advantage of changes to a federal law that originally allowed funding for secular welfare workers only if there was proof no chaplain was available. The law, which allocated $222 million for school chaplains over three years, has been in place since 2007.

“Under the revised program guidelines, schools are now able to choose the type of service that best meets the circumstances and preferences of their own school community,” School Education Minister Peter Garrett said, according to the Times.

The newspaper reported that 8 percent of the 2,512 schools that reapplied for funding proposed to employ a secular welfare worker.          

Federal funding of the school chaplaincy program has been challenged on constitutional grounds, but there has not yet been a ruling by the High Court.