The Illawarra's Catholic community is mounting an escalating campaign against the NSW government in protest over cuts to Catholic and independent schools.
Over the weekend, Bishop Peter Ingham requested all Wollongong priests to inform their parishes about fears the government will slash Catholic school spending by $66.7 million from the start of next year.
At the same time, Wollongong Diocese director of schools Peter Turner sent a letter to every Catholic school parent in the region urging them to contact state and federal MPs to raise their concerns.
After a confidential briefing with NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli last week, Catholic officials said the government planned to cut Catholic school grants by $24.5 million a year from the start of 2013.
Yesterday, Premier Barry O'Farrell denied that a decision about cuts had been made, but said all options were being explored to help his government control spending.
"It is true that state revenues are down $2 billion, so clearly one of the changes that we outlined in the budget a month or so ago was to rein in spending," Mr O'Farrell said.
Mr Turner said cuts would affect more than 22,000 Catholic schoolchildren in Illawarra schools and could potentially lead to a fee rise of hundreds of dollars each year.
"Quite clearly, a funding cut of this nature will have a significant and highly damaging impact," he said.
He also noted the "perplexing" decision for Mr Piccoli to cut school funding at the same time he was negotiating with the federal government over plans to boost national education funds by $6.5 billion and implement recommendations from the Gonski review.
"Unfortunately, this decision totally erodes the credibility of such negotiations and contradicts the public positions of both the federal government and opposition that no school ... would be worse off financially from 2014," Mr Turner said.
The NSW Opposition yesterday said it would "vigorously fight" funding cuts to any school and the Independent Education Union threatened to hold a statewide day of protest next term if cuts go ahead.
Keira MP Ryan Park said he had received numerous letters and phone calls from angry parents and students.
"Some of these parents are on low incomes, but they budget to be able to send their kids to faith-based schools," Mr Park said.
"They are worried about what the impact will be on their children, particularly senior students, if they have to take out them out and move them to a different school."