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Nats’ school funding policy under attack

Written By: - Date published: 2:45 pm, April 15th, 2008 - 33 comments
Categories: education, john key - Tags: ,

Stuff reports that “Principals and teachers have savaged a National Party plan to increase funding for private schools, calling it a thinly disguised tax break for the rich.”

New Zealand Secondary Principals’ Council chairman Arthur Graves called Key’s proposal to increase funding to private schools at the expense of the public system “a deliberate attempt to undermine and rob public schools and essentially provide a tax break for the rich,” saying “It takes the resources away from the schools that need them.” Frances Nelson, President of the Teachers’ Union the NZEI shared this view, saying “Any money given to private schools will be lost to the public sector. The taxpayer and the children of New Zealand deserve better”.

Once again, Key’s ended up in a policy “no man’s land”. He’s shied away from making the change his caucus and backers really want to see in education – a return to bulk funding – National’s pollsters having evidently confirmed it’s a “third rail issue” and ruled it out as politically untenable. But Mr Key has to say something; people are beginning to wonder where the emperor’s clothes are and National’s unlikely to fool anyone with their self-conscious re-branding of bullet point policy releases on their website: “Our policies so far”.

33 comments on “Nats’ school funding policy under attack ”

  1. Steve Pierson 1

    “our policies so far” it smacks of desperation.

    and having a look them:
    first thing is they fit all on one page.

    second thing is half of them are ‘more trades training’, which Labour has already announced.

    third: ‘clear national standards’ not sure how that will help any child learn better..

    fourth: parents get to see report cards. yawn. they do already.

    fifth: tackling tech teacher shortage. not an acutal policy because you havne’t said how.

    sixth: encourage businesses to help schools. Again how? is this a partial step to privatisation?

    seventh: 10% top up on voluntary loan repayments, a subsidy for those rich enough to afford voluntary repayments.

    So, one meaningful policy and its a sop to the wealthy, just like the private school plan.

  2. Another way to look at this is to say that those who send their children to private schools are taxed twice. Having the funding follow the child and letting parents choose where they send their children to school,provides teachers and schools with direct feedback on performance. Mr Key needs to stop being Helen-lite.

  3. The most “desirable schools” already have the lions share of access to resources – i.e. sponsorship of sporting/cultural activities, arguably better teachers, who are entitled to extra-salary benefits.

    Why is this policy even needed? Oh, wait – that’s right – its a tax cut for the wealthy.

  4. insider 4

    There’s an assumption that this money will be ‘taken’ from public schools – where’s the evidence?

    It’s my understanding that private schools have always received funding from government but it has not increased in nearly 10 years. Surely they are the ones that have had funding taken?

    Why are people in education so scared of competition?

  5. Mike Collins 5

    I’m not an apologist for National by any means but this sounds like a reflexive anti National tirade by these notoriously anti National groups. I fail to see how this policy takes away from the public system when what Key is talking about is increasing funding to the private school system from $40 million to $70 million. He is not saying that he will cut this $30 million from public school spending in order to do it.

    Key’s policy is not my preferred solution but a grain of salt is required when listening to teachers/principals unions. Likewise the bandwagon approach employed by a_y_b could do with a little more analysis than simply parroting these groups’ press releases.

    This ideological problem with private schools does nothing to help the kids in this country. Who cares what school is doing the educating so long as the kid is educated? Oh I forgot. The profit motive is evil.

  6. Steve Pierson 6

    giving private schools even more money so that they can afford even more than now to take the best teachers and educational resources for the kids with the rishest parents, leaving the rest of us with worse schools, is wrong.

  7. Mike Collins 7

    No Steve,

    What is wrong is making parents (wealthy or otherwise) having to pay twice for the type of education our kids deserve. The lack of supply side flexibility in our school system is the problem and throwing more money at it will result in the same productivity increases from the comparable health sector – ie little to nothing.

    However I do agree that Key’s policies in education to date won’t fix any problems.

  8. Matthew Pilott 8

    insider – from my understanding of those in the education sector, they consider it a cooperative exercise, not a competitive one. If one school wins, others lose out. is that how we wich our education model to be? What effect will that have on unfashionable schools, in poor areas – and how would that not start to prepetuate underachievement and exacerbate poverty?

    Mike Collins – if those who send their childdren to private schools are paying twice for ‘the type of education our kids deserve’, the logical conclusion is that public and private schools need funding (public funding, from taxes) to ensure they all have the resources available to match those of the best off private schools.

    I’m all for that…

  9. insider 9


    Decile 1 schools are the ones with far higher levels of funding than any others and which can pay more for teachers. They pull resource from other state schools.

    Is there any evidence private schools do pay more? I’ve not heard that from the teachers I know who have and do teach in them.

    What are these resources they ‘take’ and how do they make the system worse? Where is the evidence they have that market power? Are our teachers so bad that the tiny proportion of roles in private schools can significantly distort the rest of the education sector? Sounds like that is an issue the state sector needs to address internally rather than blaming private schools

  10. Chris S 10

    insider, why should education be subject to market forces?

    If a school is a business, it’s primary purpose is to turn a profit – providing education becomes 2nd.

    And “where’s the evidence”? No evidence needed, it stands to reason. You have $X for education. The money you give to private schools ($Y) is not being given to public schools ($Z).

    If $X = $Y $Z then $Z = $X – $Y

  11. Chris S 11

    Ate my plus sign… “If $X = $Y $Z then $Z = $X – $Y

  12. insider 12


    So young and so naive…Are you seriously telling me that schools don’t target pupils and teachers they want to attract? Of course they do. Join a board or talk to a few principals. You’ll find it;s not all Morris dancing and singalongs I’m afraid.

    capcha customer reform

  13. Mike Collins 13


    If it were as simple as providing more funding and getting better results I would be all for it. Now I am fairly sure you would know it is not as simple as that. Anyone needing any evidence can simply look at the health sector to know that increasing funding does not necessarily increase outcomes.

    The model that we have for public eduction (and the government’s interaction with private institutions) needs an overhaul if we are truly going to deliver educational outcomes that our kids deserve.

    You posit that some schools will fall by the wayside in a competitive model. I concede this is a possibility but do not think this is a necessarily bad thing. After all if they do fail, they have failed because they are failing our kids. The alternative(s) would have been more attractive to the parents and caregivers. A competitive model will allow for innovation and franchising of successful processes and ideas. Competition is certainly nothing to be scared of.

    Of course I say all this without believing that anyone here will change the way they think. However I think it is important to say the present system is not optimal and throwing more money at it won’t fix the issues. Particularly if the underlying structural faults aren’t fixed first.

  14. Matthew Pilott 14

    Insider, please refrain from personal comments eh, what’s the point in that?

    I’m referring to the industry as a whole. You’re certainly right that schools are competitive at an individual level, with what is available – the best students and teachers. That’s nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Is your solution to open up every other aspect of education to competiton? How will that help?

    When you say ‘competiton’, tell me – what happens to the losers?

    Mike Collins, I will admit that in such a competitive model, I can’t see much more happening than the best schools getting better, more expensive and more necessary for students to attend (imagine being asked which college you went to first up in every interview…). The gap will simply increase, and what will happen to those left behind? They can’t exactly close, or go out of business – they’ll just become ghettoised, as will the areas around them (ok that’s an extreme scenario, perhaps ‘depressed’ is a better term).

    I’d be happy to hear an alternative that paints a positive picture of a competitive education industry. I accept that simply throwing more money at schools won’t help, as you say, it’s not something I am advocating – it was just a response to the comment that private schools deliver ‘the education our children deserve’, and the logical conclusion therein.

    As I see it, though, with a market there are winners and losers. In this case, a vast majority of students will be losers, and it won’t be their fault.

  15. Pablo 15

    “Another way to look at this is to say that those who send their children to private schools are taxed twice”

    Bullshit argument. You can’t point to the portion of your taxes that specifically pays for your children’s education, any more than you can point to the portion that provides for the police force. People with no school age children don’t get a tax rebate for the education services they don’t use. People who don’t get robbed don’t get a rebate for police services not used. The government funds the services it believes to be beneficial out of a pool of money, it doesn’t collect certain amounts from specific people to fund parts of its budget.

  16. Mike Collins 16


    That’s just running around in circles and if you are seriously suggesting that they don’t pay twice, then I think you may have made yourself dizzy from it. It is a semantic argument because Kiwis hold dear a belief that education should be free as that’s what they pay their taxes for. It is an indictment on the structure of our education system that parents often need to pay considerably more than their taxes to fund the education of their children to a decent standard. Now of course it is a choice to send your child to a private school. But if your local public school(s) don’t come up to standard – is it really that much of a choice? Many people from all backgrounds wouldn’t say so. In that sense it is a tax.

    Unfortunately at the moment the only ones who can generally afford private schools are by and large the wealthy. Allowing vouchers opens up options for poorer sections of society that many would wish they could take now if only the opportunity were there.

  17. Hillary 17

    “Decile 1 schools are the ones with far higher levels of funding than any others and which can pay more for teachers.”

    Insider, have you been to any Decile 1 schools lately? I haven’t seen any evidence of the far higher funding you say they receive. The decile system exists to address equity issues for schools with less well resourced school communities, and there’s room for it to go much further.

    Decile 1 schools don’t pay teachers, their salaries come from the Ministry of Education and there’s no pay differential based on the decile level of the school the teacher works at. But what a good idea that would be!

  18. Ari 18

    Mike, if parents put money into public schools like they do into private ones, I’m pretty sure the public schools would actually be better.

    Hillary- you’re absolutely right. The decile system doesn’t actually go far enough in overcoming the challenges of running a school in a poor community, and we could do much better for our kids than diverting money away from disadvantaged kids and into tax breaks for people who send their kids to private schools.

    Also, have you been following me? I’m sure I suggested paying staff in lower-decile schools more to reflect the difficulty of the teaching environment. I think it was on Frogblog…

  19. Pablo 19

    No Mike, you are running around in circles trying to justify the ridiculous idea that taxes pay for specific services and that you should be able to pick & choose what services you pay for and which you don’t.

    We don’t believe that education should be free cos that’s what we pay our taxes for. We believe education should be free because it is a social good that the community benefits from – from lower crime, better jobs, more wealth for everyone. You fundamentally misunderstand the argument if you think we want free education because of a sense of entitlement. The ridiculous thingis that these arguments were settled 100 years ago or more. Read Mill or Dickens if you don’t believe me.

    With regard to choice in education. I have a choice about where to send my children when they go to school. If none of the public schools offers a decent standard of education I have two choices: send the kids to private school or work to make my local school better. That’s what communities do. They work together to make things better for everyone.

    You on the Right have the mantra that the individual is paramount, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. On the left we appreciate the value of the community as more than a group of individuals. Individuals suffer when the community is destroyed.

  20. Tamaki resident 20

    “there’s no pay differential based on the decile level of the school the teacher works at. But what a good idea that would be!”
    Hillary – I’d be interested if you could explain that one a bit further. From my observations the teachers at a lower decile school work with less resources, and in a lot harder environment. Are you suggesting they be paid more? If yes, then I agree.

    Disclosure: My kids go to a decile 10 school, which means we pay over $400/child in “donation” and a further approx. $100 in Activity fees etc.

  21. Hillary 21

    Pablo, I agree with you about communities being greater than the sum of their parts and all. But lucky old you to have a choice to send your kids to a private school, at $12k a pop per child per annum.

    Maybe Slippery John wants to reduce the cost of private schools to make them accessible to the plebs. Yeah, right. I bet that even with extra funding from National the cost of them wouldn’t go down, their facilities would just get even better. The point of most private schools is to promote privilege and elitism. Just like National, if they’re honest.

  22. Mike Collins 22

    Hillary – “The point of most private schools is to promote privilege and elitism.”

    Well no, it is to get a good education. That’s a very cynical view you hold.

    Ari – “if parents put money into public schools like they do into private ones, I’m pretty sure the public schools would actually be better.”

    Perhaps. But you are forgetting one crucial factor – the element of competition. The driver of the excellence for private schools is the profit motive. In order to make a profit they must be successful. They are successful if they educate the kids well. The circle is virtuous.

    I have no problem with public schools. I went to one myself and have no regrets about my eduction. My wish is for Kiwi kids to have access to the types of education that will best suit them and best enable them for their futures be it public or private provision. What I am trying to discuss is a model for allowing this access to quality to be available to everyone, not just those that can currently afford it. I don’t believe the current system works as well as it should. There are supply side deficiencies in the current model that mean that simply throwing more money into it just won’t achieve proportionally greater outcomes.

    “You on the Right have the mantra that the individual is paramount”

    Yes from a philosophical standpoint I do think the individual is paramount. However that aside the solution I am advocating is not entirely consistent with a philosophical individualist perspective. If I were being hardline I would suggest that no tax dollars fund eduction at all and that parents pay what they can afford. In the real world we must all accept the limitations of philosophical hardlines and look to situations that are viable. I would ask you to reflect on the limitations in today’s world of the collectivist model that you hold dear .

    You say – “…or work to make my local school better. That’s what communities do. They work together to make things better for everyone.” If you’re being truly honest can you see the difference between this lofty ideal and large scale reality? This just isn’t working as well as it needs to be with regard our education system.

  23. Draco TB 23

    The profit motive is evil.

    Actually – it is.

    Consider two schools. They have the same number of teachers who are paid the same amount, same expenses etc. One is public and the other is private. Which is the most expensive? The private one.

    The private one will be more expensive because the owners of the school want some profit out of their investment. The profit can be realized two ways 1) By charging more or 2) By reducing the amount spent on the services provided by the school. The profit itself is no different than a tax.

    Private schools should not get any public funding at all simply because public funds aren’t there to prop up some individuals profits. That’s all public funding of private schools is.

    What is wrong is making parents (wealthy or otherwise) having to pay twice for the type of education our kids deserve.

    How are they being forced to pay twice?

    If people choose to send their kids to a private school and not take advantage of the public school system that’s their choice. They’re still only being taxed once. Anything they pay to the private school is their own business.

    customer reform

    Now that is something I could support. Somewhere along the line some idiot mentioned that the lie that the ‘customer is never wrong’. People took it to heart but after years dealing with customers I can emphatically say that the customer is almost always wrong.


  24. Pablo 24

    Hilary, I should have been more clear. I wasn’t talking about my specific circumstances, but in the general sense. My point was that if the local school isn’t up to scratch, I have two options, not the clayton’s choice of sending the kids to a private school (which in many circumstances is not an option at all).

    Mike, it might be a lofty ideal, but only because we have destroyed the idea that working in the community is a good idea. My parents helped by coaching sports teams and cubs when I was a kid. I can name half a dozen great teachers who helped me in extra-curricula activities like sport and music when I was at school in the 70s and 80s. Teachers don’t do that any more. Sports clubs, recreation groups (scouts & girl guides for example) and other community groups are crying out for volunteers, because the mantra since the 80s has been if it ain’t paid, it ain’t worthwhile. That is a direct result of the Rogernomics revolution.

    FWIW (and I am talking about my personal situation now), my wife is the president of the local plunket playgroup and she volunteers at the local toy library. The company I work for has a volunteer programme where staff tutor and mentor kids at some high school out in Henderson. There are still people who believe volunteering is more than a lofty ideal.

    Your point about ideology is reasonable. I don’t have a hard and fast attachment to collectivism, as you call it. I have observed in both NZ and the UK the destruction of communities and isolation of individuals that cause most of the social ills that conservatives complain about. I am as dismissive of extreme collectivisation as I am of extreme market solutions.

  25. Mike Collins 25


    Thanks for your response. I agree that communities are vital (if it weren’t clear from previous posts) and like to do my bit with volunteering where I can, admittedly not often enough. Just to clarify, the solution I support in education is not an extreme market solution. It is a mixture of the collectivist model and market economics. The collectivist aspect is through funding. Funding through taxes as opposed individuals. The market aspect is through the delivery of services – in this case education.


    “Consider two schools. They have the same number of teachers who are paid the same amount, same expenses etc. One is public and the other is private. Which is the most expensive? The private one.”

    I would be inclined to agree with you if the situation you site above actually existed. The inputs and outputs are very much different in reality. You are neglecting to calculate enhanced results and enhanced efficiencies more inherent in a competition subjected environment. If the costs and the results are the same, as in the scenario you posit, why would anyone want to send their kids to a private school? After all it’s probably costing them more at the moment. The fact they do would seem to expose your hypothetical situation as just that. And to pre-empt an answer from Hillary I don’t think parents would be willing to send them anyway as the kids will get to learn elitism and priviledge.

    “How are they being forced to pay twice?”

    I believe I have answered this already. While no one is forced to send their kids to a private school some feel they have no other option. If the alternative is a substandard education, then those with the means will pay extra. That is not much of a choice in my opinion. It is a tragedy though that only some are in a position to exercise this choice. The solution I advocate certainly can not be considered elitist or propetuating priviledge.

    “Somewhere along the line some idiot mentioned that the lie that the ‘customer is never wrong’. People took it to heart but after years dealing with customers I can emphatically say that the customer is almost always wrong.”

    Try owning a business with that mindset and see how far you get. That mantra actually means you need to keep the customer happy to retain their custom. There are plenty of times when customers may make what we consider to be a wrong choice – but hey it is their choice. All you can do is provide advice. People usually don’t react too well to being told they are wrong. And isn’t it elitist to consider yourself right above others?

    Captcha: From Herman – not so sure about that.

  26. insider 26


    these elements in operational grants are affected by a school’s decile

    Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement (TFEA) (Deciles 1-9)
    Special Education Grant (SEG) (Deciles 1-10)
    Careers Information Grant (CIG) (Deciles 1-10)
    Kura Kaupapa Maori Transport (Deciles 1-10)
    Priority Teacher Supply Allowance (PTSA) (Deciles 1-2)
    National Relocation Grant (NRG) (Deciles 1-4)
    Decile Discretionary Funding for Principals (Deciles 1-4)
    Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) Learning Support Funding (Deciles 1-10)
    RTLBs for years 11-13 (Deciles 1-10)
    School Property Financial Assistance scheme (Deciles 1-10)
    Study Support Centres (Deciles 1-3)
    Social Workers in Schools (Deciles 1-5)
    District Truancy Service (Deciles 1-10)

    QUite a lot relates to additional staffing services.

    “The decile system exists to address equity issues for schools with less well resourced school communities, and there’s room for it to go much further.”

    So what you are saying is that the education system knowingly does not actually fund education, it expectes parents to? Is that a good thing?

    As for competition, it is one way of allowing a community to send a signal that they are not happy with the operation and management of a school by voting with their feet. Why is parent choice a bad thing?

  27. Pablo 27

    “Just to clarify, the solution I support in education is not an extreme market solution.”

    Mike, therein lies our disagreement. To my way of thinking, the mixture of collectivism and market forces is (not perfect but) about right. Your para earlier does sound extreme to me:

    “You posit that some schools will fall by the wayside in a competitive model. I concede this is a possibility but do not think this is a necessarily bad thing. After all if they do fail, they have failed because they are failing our kids. The alternative(s) would have been more attractive to the parents and caregivers. A competitive model will allow for innovation and franchising of successful processes and ideas. Competition is certainly nothing to be scared of.”

    If you think of the emotional capital tied up in a local school then letting schools fail (I don’t mean “letting”, but I think you know what I’m getting at) *is* a big deal. Compare to, say, the angst caused when Maharey closed schools down the line a few years ago, or the despair when a school gets vandalised.

    If one of my local schools gets closed down due to lack of support from the community, all of a sudden my choices are restricted. There are a number of reasons for picking a particular school, using the market system it is just a popularity contest.

  28. Mike Collins 28


    I am inclinded to disagree with you based on a premise I know you won’t agree with as we have differing outlooks. You are concerned about things such as emotional capital and losing a local school. I believe education should be about delivering educational outcomes not acting as a pacifier for local communities’ emotions.

    Quite clearly in my above example that you quote I say that schools will only fail if the alternative(s) are better. This means that parents are willing and able to send their kids to another school as that would be delivering a better quality education for their kids.

    I don’t see anything extreme in enabling choice for everyone in society rather than just the few who can afford it.

  29. Pablo 29

    Cheers Mike, I won’t go on cos I think we’re just dancing around a fundamental disagreement. I know that we both have the best interests of the country at heart, we just want to achieve the best in different ways and we would probably disagree on what “best” looks like.

    Have a good one.

    Captcha: “to expressing” I’d drink to that.

  30. insider 30


    Schools are already falling by the wayside -there are a number that have been closed or are already under administration. That is under the public system so don’t assume it is a private only outcome.

    Perhaps with competition they may have seen the warning signs earlier.

    Wealthier parents have the option of moving to be close to a better school, poor ones don’t and essentially are stuck with what they are given.

  31. Matthew Pilott 31

    With Respect To competition, or state funding, or whatever management system you wish to use, the crux of the problem is show to remedy a problem – how to asssist a school that is deficient and struggling.

    In a truly competitive system, the school would go out of business, so to speak. That’s not an option here and I don’t imagine those advocating competiton are saying this.

    So what do we do?

    Where the ‘competitive’ model falls down is the treatment of the loser schools – since they must be kept, and preferably brought up to the standard of schools that are performing well, struggling schools would therefore reqiure assistance. In essence, this is a free pass, and a disincentive to perform.

    This isn’t competitive, of course – quite the opposite. I don’t see how this dichotomy can be reconciled by those who advocate competition in our education model.

    Anyone? How can this deliver educational outcomes better than a cooperative model?

  32. Mike Collins 32


    For a market system to work failures must be allowed to fail. That may well mean schools need to close. As I have said on this thread twice already if a school does close it is because the other options were better for the parents of those children. However I think a much likelier outcome is for successful school systems to be “franchised” out. This could include the possibility of being taken over by other schools with proven track records.

    I realise this is a radical concept when compared with our current system. However this doesn’t make it unfeasible.

    Thanks guys for contributing to the debate. As Pablo says we each want to achieve what’s best for the kids in this country but we have different mindsets. These will inevitably lead us to differing conclusions. The positive thing is we are able to air our arguments fairly and with respect for each others opinion. Not all that common online.

  33. Matthew Pilott 33

    Well all, for a novel idea, wouldn’t it be great for both sides of the spectrum have this debate in the house – without resorting to isolated stories of schools failing students, and accusations of bulk funding or ‘McSchools’.

    There’s certainly ground for improvement and innovation, but a distinct lack of rational discourse…

    A zero-sum attitude to politics serves no one.

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