Reading another worrying report about the New Zealand charter school experiment – this time looking at Villa Education and the Ministry’s poorly negotiated contracts – a friend commented that it’s almost like the Minister will throw any amount of cash at charter schools to make them succeed.
And another mused that in no other area of government would a private business be handed over such huge sums of money from the public purse with no way of reclaiming it should the business fail.
Many ask themselves, just what exactly is going on? But if you try to find out, the Minister, Ministry and Undersecretary will merely offer words to the effect of ‘no comment’.
(And for the love of all that is holy, don’t hold your breath trying to find anything out via the Official Information Act – people have lived and died waiting for those beggars to come through).
I don’t know why, but it all puts me in mind of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.
Uneven Playing Fields
So is excessive funding of charter schools really such a big problem? I mean, MBIE flings public funds around like money’s going out of fashion, so perhaps it’s just how government funding goes? Are charter schools merely benefiting from government’s lax purse strings? Hmm, nice try – but not all publicly funded entities are so lucky:
Charter schools are given funds for students they don’t have: Public schools are funded only for their exact roll.
Charter schools can and do spend the funds they are given to buy property that they then own and keep even if they fail: Public school land and buildings are owned by the crown and are reclaimed if a school is closed.
Charter school accounts can be hidden by use of a parent Trust company: Public school accounts are entirely public.
It all sounds a little, well, uneven. And not entirely sensible.
As Jolisa Gracewood put it in What’s Wrong with National Standards?:
“By the current government’s logic, it makes more sense to pour money into a brand-new charter school in a lower-decile neighbourhood than to direct that funding towards support programmes at existing schools or kura…”
Exactly. But why?
Some say the Education Minister doesn’t know what on earth she’s doing. I disagree. She knows. But people misunderstand the purpose of these first charter schools. Their purpose is to slowly get people used to the idea that privatising the school system is not such a bad idea. As such, they will be supported and made to succeed (or seem to succeed) come hell or high water.
Of course you don’t have to trust me on this one – we can look to far wiser heads than mine and the conclusions of Massey University’s report, CHARTER SCHOOLS FOR NEW ZEALAND:
“In New Zealand, government initiated or ministry sponsored educational experiments have a long history of ‘success’: all innovations seem to ‘work’. The reason is, of course, that those who introduce them make sure that they are well funded and that the ‘evaluation’ is carefully controlled to ensure favourable outcomes.”
But why would anyone want to ensure the success of charter schools at all costs?
Privatisation Achievement Unlocked
If ACT’s charter school dream comes true, all schools will be given the chance to become charter schools.
Of course, once large numbers of schools, wooed by the glint of better funding, convert to charter schools, the game will change:
The current level of funding cannot be sustained for huge numbers of schools.
The answer is, it won’t matter. Not to ACT or to National, at least, as the mission will have been achieved, which is to move the education system over to a privatised model.
Then the funding can and will drop, because the actual goal will have been met – privatisation of the public school system.
So to answer those wondering what’s going on with excessive charter school funding, the answer is simply this: it’s an inducement to jump the public school ship and board the charter schools cruise liner … but beware, that boat has holes.
~ Dianne Khan
Sources and further reading:
CHARTER SCHOOLS FOR NEW ZEALAND, An investigation designed to further the debate in New Zealand on education policy in general and on charter schooling in particular, EDUCATION POLICY RESPONSE GROUP, Massey University College of Education, April 2012