With a General Election looming, perception is everything. Even though May’s Budget is now something of a distant memory, the impression it leaves on voters is far more important electorally than the reality.

So, what is the reality? On the surface, a $1.5 billion increase for education sounds like great news that should really make a difference for our children. However, most of that is for new schools and classrooms and to cover population growth.

On the absolute front line of education spending is school operations grants, which will rise by just $8.6 million next year and about $17 million in each of the following three years. It’s far short of the extra $50 million a year that NZEI members were calling for pre-budget, and principals I’ve heard from are underwhelmed – and worried.

It’s a worry because this is the money that schools use to pay for support staff, classroom resources, utilities and scores of other essentials. One principal colleague described the Budget as a “lost opportunity” to support children’s learning and he doesn’t believe this government is concerned with the impact of education underfunding.

The impact is a two-tier public system, where all schools are inadequately funded, but some are able to call on parents and their business and community connections to bridge some or even all of the gap.

It’s a system in which a low decile school is delighted with a gala that raises $5,000 and a school in a wealthy community can count on their gala netting $100,000 or more. It’s a system in which a school in a struggling community might get a local business to sponsor new netball and rugby gear, while a school in a leafy suburb can earn $150,000 a year in international student enrolments.

This shouldn’t have to happen in New Zealand. Our schools shouldn’t have to be fundraising machines, constantly putting their hands out to their parents and wider community who may or may not be able to afford to contribute. Our vision as educators is for every school to be resourced to ensure the educational needs of every child are met. It must not be dependent on a child’s postcode.

So, this General Election, we are calling on all New Zealanders to vote for the children. We’re asking voters to look for the political party that has a vision for our children and is prepared to fund it. What policies will truly make a difference, and not just for a few? The time for political platitudes and smoke-and-mirrors government Budgets is over. It’s up to us to make sure politicians get the message that quality education for every child is not only achievable, it’s essential to our future.

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