By: Simon Collins

This week’s Budget looks set to deliver key election promises in education – but looming teachers’ pay hikes threaten to squeeze spending in future years.

Labour’s pre-election fiscal plan last year included extra funding from January 2019 for early childhood centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers, plus more careers advisers in schools and a “school-leaver’s toolkit” including lessons in driving, budgeting and the political system.

A promised $150 annual grant for every student to schools that promise not to ask parents for “donations” is also expected to be funded from the next school year.

But big hikes in teacher salaries – which the Government may feel it has to support to overcome a teacher shortage – could drastically reduce the scope to fund more teachers and support workers in future Budgets.

More than 99 per cent of primary and preschool teachers voted last month to campaign for a 16 per cent pay rise over two years, and secondary teachers have signalled a likely pay claim of around 14.5 per cent.

A 15 per cent pay rise for all teachers over two years would cost $577 million a year by 2020/21, eating up a large chunk of the $766m allowed for that year in Labour’s pre-election plan for all education initiatives apart from tertiary fee subsidies and higher student allowances, which have already been implemented.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Mike Williams said his top priority for the Budget would be funding for higher salaries and reduced workload to overcome a serious teacher shortage, especially in Auckland.

“If we haven’t got the teachers, all the rest becomes academic,” he said.

“The interesting point will be what’s left in the tank for education. The free fees have emptied the tank quite a bit.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced at the education summit over the weekend an extra $21.5m over four years for extra speech and language therapists and other early interventions for preschoolers with learning needs such as delayed speech or autism. She said there would be more in the Budget for school-aged students with extra needs.

However, any serious increase in spending on special needs is likely to wait until Education Minister Chris Hipkins and his associate minister Tracey Martin develop an “action plan” with a new model for learning support in October.

The Budget is likely to earmark funds to implement Labour’s coalition agreement with NZ First to restore funding for gifted students, start a pilot programme of guidance counsellors in primary schools (they are now funded only in high schools), offer free driver training to all secondary students and restore funding for Computers in Homes.

The primary and preschool teachers’ union, the NZ Educational Institute, has asked for an extra $1.6 billion a year including $266m for pay rises and $600m extra for early childhood education.

Labour has promised to “reinstate funding for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers”, and to “require all early childhood services to employ at least 80 per cent qualified teachers by the end of our first term in government.”

The party said it would “aim for 100 per cent qualified teachers” in all centres, but did not specify any target date to achieve that goal.

Source: NZ Herald 

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