Education Minister Chris Hipkins says Budget 2019 takes a “major step towards making school education free again” with school donations being scrapped for the majority of students, and the removal of NCEA and NZ Scholarship fees.

At a cost of $265.6 million over the next four years, all decile 1-7 State and State-integrated schools will be eligible to receive $150 per student per year if the school agrees to stop requesting school donations from parents. The initiative will take effect from the start of the 2020 school year and be monitored by the Ministry of Education and new legislation.

“We know how difficult it is for parents to afford the fees that schools charge, and the pressure it places on parents who aren’t able to afford the donations. Many students will now be able to get the education they need with less financial pressure on their parents,” says Hipkins.

Another step in alleviating financial pressure was removing NCEA and NZ Scholarship fees. More than 145,000 households are estimated to benefit from the removal of the $76.70 NCEA fee that families pay every year for around 168,000 secondary school students.

While teacher unions have welcomed these measures they are disappointed not to see more investment in the teacher workforce included in the Budget.

“While we support the focus on well-being and mental health and the funding to replace school donations, we wish the government had been braver,” says PPTA president Jack Boyle.

“Teacher shortages are dragging our education system down and there is nothing concrete is this budget to address them.”

“If it chose to the government could easily resource a highly skilled teacher workforce. We wonder why they don’t realise how important it is.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart agrees.

“$150 per student for decile 1-7 schools that stop collecting donations is a very welcome step and will relieve some pressure on families and schools budgets. But outside of that, school operations grants and early childhood education are simply seeing increases that keep up with inflation and population growth. This isn’t the transformational change we need to address the crisis in education.”

Teachers’ hopes of a pay jolt, smaller classes, more operational funding and more support for children with additional learning needs have been dashed.

National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye was also scathing.

“The increase in schools’ operational funding is not enough to keep up with rising costs for schools including the Government’s increases to the minimum wage,” says Kaye.

“This budget is totally underwhelming and provides little to address the collective bargaining issues,” she says, adding that more strikes have been confirmed for secondary schools.

Early childhood education received a 1.8 per cent increase in their subsidy rates to cover for inflation over the past year, at a cost of $131.1 million over four years.

“Without the subsidy increase to offset rising costs, providers would likely face the choice of raising fees and making parents pay more, or reducing the quality of the services they provide to young children and their families,” says Hipkins.

However, the ECE sector was expecting more. Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand Chief Executive, Kathy Wolfe describes the ECE funding as “tokenistic”.

“While we thank the Minister of Education for a 1.8% increase in per child subsidy rates, the early childhood sector is over the government and government agencies’ disregard for early childhood education in New Zealand.”

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