Up to one in 10 Catholic school families are expected to seek fee relief this year because of the financial strain of the COVID-19 crisis, an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry has heard.
Appearing at the latest public hearing into the Barr government's response to the pandemic, ACT Catholic Education director Ross Fox said almost 200 families had already applied for fee concessions.
Mr Fox said that number was expected to increase amid the uncertainty about the long-term economic consequences of the shutdown, predicting that between 5 and 10 per cent of families would ask for financial support this year.
There are about 14,000 students enrolled at Canberra's 29 Catholic schools.
"We are doing everything we can to accommodate those families who are experiencing financial hardship," Mr Fox said.
"Our commitment is that no one will be excluded from a Catholic education because of their circumstances."
Mr Fox said Catholic Education would cover the costs of the concessions, meaning that individuals schools wouldn't be out of pocket.
He said the system might have dip into its cash reserves depending on how many families requested support. It was already facing a $2 million ACT government funding cut this financial year before the pandemic struck, he said.
Despite the economic climate, he was confident there wouldn't be a mass exodus of families from the Catholic education system next year. However, he said schools were anxious about a drop in interest from prospective parents as enrolments opened for 2021.
Mr Fox also told Friday's hearing there had been above average attendance at most of Canberra's Catholic schools this week as students returned to the classroom learning. Attendance was about 96 per cent this week, compared with a normal rate of 90 to 95 per cent, he said.
Mr Fox suggested the high rate of attendance was a sign of the "eagerness of parents to engage back in school".
Association of Independent Schools of the ACT executive director Andrew Wrigley said he did not know how many private school parents had sought fee relief, but he was aware of schools' foundations stepping in to support families.
Mr Wrigley said schools were very willing to support families.
"Schools have been very clear in their communication with parents. [Schools have said] 'Come to us and speak to us'," he said.
"They do not want students to be withdrawn, or to leave the school, because of the circumstances that are facing parents at this very challenging time."