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First the win, then the next battle

Better Funding, Better Learning campaign rolls into election year.

The global budget is dead in the water and can be hailed as a victory for collective action of the members of NZEI and PPTA.

The global budget would have seen a return to bulk-funding of schools with the guaranteed minimum number of teachers for an individual school ditched. The money would have been paid in a single pool from which salaries and other costs would have to be met and teachers could have been “cashed up”.

It was the collective action of NZEI and PPTA members – attending Paid Union Meetings, lobbying and campaigning which saw this flawed proposal over-turned and off the table.

There was also a win on breaking the cap on the funding of speech language therapists – a win in special education.

And while we may celebrate these great wins, there is still work to be done. The bus tour of Heartland New Zealand will begin in February. This will keep the underfunding of education on the agenda in election year and bring awareness to the specific issues facing rural schools. (See NZEI’s Better Funding website for more details).

The education sector in this country is still woefully underfunded. Ask principals and Boards juggling budgets, support staff losing hours every year, teachers who pay for resources and school trips for children out of their own pockets, communities who are constantly fundraising for their school and early childhood teachers who work in increasingly under-funded and under-resourced centres.

OECD statistics released late last year showed that NZ Government funding is in the bottom half of the developed countries for investment in primary school education, spending just $US 7354 per child compared with an OECD average of USD $8477 (Education at a Glance report released September 16, 2016).

The campaign last year included sending postcards to the Minister of Education and signing the petition (at last count it had 26,000 signatures) to unfreeze the operations grant from which support staff salaries are funded.

And in the Early Childhood Education Sector the Every Child is Worth It campaign was launched with an aim to lift the funding freeze and to have 100 percent qualified teaching staff in every centre.

Membership of NZEI has increased in the wake of the campaigns.

This year is a great opportunity to make education a top election issue and Budget 2017 will be a crucial time to get the freeze on the operations grant and ECE funding lifted.

Julian Dennison at Educators Day rally.
Julian Dennison, star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople, came to Educators’ Day celebrations at Parliament late last year to support Better Funding for education.

Principals’ survey

In November last year, an NZEI survey of principals revealed how much schools struggle to make ends meet. The under-funded sector is being topped up by parent donations. Of the 300 schools who responded about 40 percent of principals said that they were considering cutting back on the hours of teacher aides and other support staff.

Thirteen percent of the principals in the school survey said that they were looking at increasing parent donations with some saying even though they had a shortfall, they could not ask their stretched communities for more money.

The Education Minister announced in the 2016 Budget that the freeze on the operations fund would be used to pay for targeted funding to children considered most at risk of underachievement. This has left about 60 percent of the schools worse off than if their operations grant had been increased as it usually had been in line with inflation.

Principals who were to have large reductions said they would have to cut support staff hours, would not do minor property repairs, would defer capital work and not replace electronic devices. Some were looking to outside agencies for grants.

They were also looking at other ways of cutting costs – including cleaning and caretaking duties and covering sick staff themselves rather than pay for relievers.

They talked about not being able to afford principal appraisals or the cost of advertising for a new appointments and professional development for staff. Many said they relied on fundraising and parents.

One principal said that basics costs such as rubbish removal, morning tea for visitors and photocopy and phone charges would also have to be cut and some said that there were deferring replacing furniture and property repairs.


Board chair’s perspective

Conor Twyford is the board chair at Pukerua Bay School near Wellington. She says that the school –  even though it is in a high decile area – still has to juggle finances and constantly fundraise. They have a successful gala most years but there are still things that they cannot do.

“I cannot imagine what it is like for schools with more challenges than us.”

She said the school would like to consider moving their support staff towards the Living Wage in recognition of the work they do but that this is very difficult with a frozen operations grant. And there is not a lot to spare.

She said they also rely on the community.

“Parents are constantly having to dig in to their pockets and pay or give up their time – which they do willingly – but there is only so much time and money you can give. Nothing is getting any cheaper and we are a community of only 1700 people so there is a limit to what you can ask.”

The school asks parents for donations of $155 for one child, $275 for two and $350 for three or more.

She said with extra funding the school would purchase more hands-on learning materials and bring in more expert advice. They would also have smaller class sizes and employ another teacher.



ECE struggling

Recent figures also show that NZEI has been validated in its argument that early childhood funding has been cut over the years.

In December, the Ministry of Education confirmed that the annual per child funding has dropped by more than $500 since 2009/10.

This is not news to those who work in the early childhood sector. The increase the Government has claimed in extra spending has not kept up with roll growth.

There are now fewer qualified teachers and worsening teacher to child ratios – mostly in the private sector (see the feature on pages 22-24 of Education Aotearoa).


A better plan

NZEI response to the funding of education is the Better Plan (You can read this on NZEI’s  Stand up for Kids website) which includes fair funding for support staff, restoration of 100 percent registered teacher funding in ECE, increase in special education funding , smaller class sizes, professional learning and support for Maori and Pasifika students. This could be achieved through not taking tax cuts and putting money into education that is equitable, fair and leads to learning success for all children.