New Zealand’s Labour Coalition Government has unveiled its "world-first" wellbeing budget, committing billions towards mental health and child wellbeing services.
For the education sector, the Government is hoping to make schooling more affordable for students by scrapping school donations and removing NCEA and NZ scholarship fees.
From 2020 onwards, all decile 1-7 state and state-integrated schools will be eligible to receive $150 per student each year if the school agrees to stop requesting donations from parents.
At a cost of $265.6 million, the initiative is expected to benefit 1700 schools and half a million school kids.
In 2018, donations to state schools increased by 30 per cent, as schools turned to parents and charitable trusts to fund their running costs or curriculum-related activities beyond what taxpayers provide.
"We know how difficult it is for parents to afford the fees that schools charge,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said in relation to the initiative.
"We are making school education free again.
"Many students will now be able to get the education they need with less financial pressure on their parents."
The Government has also promised to take financial pressure off parents by removing fees for NCEA and NZ Scholarships.
It is expected that more than 145,000 households will benefit from the removal of the $76.70 NCEA fee that families pay every year for around 168,000 secondary students.
"Abolishing these fees will make things a bit easier for families to make ends meet and ensure every student who achieves NCEA can receive their qualification," Hipkins said.
However, while teacher unions have welcomed the initiatives, they believe the budget doesn’t deliver the transformational changes required to address the “crisis in education”.
“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,” Jack Boyle, president of the Post Primary Teachers’ Association said in a statement.
“Teacher shortages are dragging our education system down and there is nothing concrete in 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.
“We want to bring out the best in every young person and that’s getting harder and harder.
"It’s passionate, expert teachers who lay the groundwork for a strong society, and at the moment we simply can’t attract enough people willing and able to take on this role.
“Teachers believe the Government had an opportunity today to invest much, much more into our public services.
"Putting artificial fiscal constraints on this spending is a false economy.
"A well-resourced education system is vital to the nation.”
Similarly, NZEI president Lynda Stuart said the budget failed to address the “chronic under-funding of education we’ve seen over the last decade”.
“[The] $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,” Stuart said.
“Our members had a clear set of priorities they wanted to see addressed in this budget.
"They wanted to see a pay jolt for teachers, increased funding for early childhood education, more support for children with additional learning needs, a more substantial increase in school operational funding, and smaller class sizes.
“A society’s wellbeing depends on a well-funded education system.
"We understand the Government has numerous competing problems to solve, and we welcome the increased investment in social spending, but we need to see increased investment in our education system, too.”
The other education investments in the budget include:
- Funding the Christchurch Schools Rebuild programme for another year to improve educational infrastructure for students in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquakes.
- $296.3 million investment to early childhood and schooling to meet increasing demands.
- $36.8 million investment to improve the conditions of school property.
- $312.3 million funding for the Learning Support Action Plan to create approximately 600 Learning Support Coordinator roles that will support schools and kura to better respond to the disablity and learning support needs of students.
- $235.7 million cost adjustment for subsidies for early learning and schools' operational grant to support early childhood education services, ngā kōhanga reo and schools to maintain volume and quality while meeting the rising costs of resources, services and staffing.