Radio NZ ran a story last week with the startling admission that funding for two Whangarei based charter schools was about to fall as they converted into Designated Character State schools from 2019.
The revelation will not be a surprise to opponents of the charter school initiative, as it has been clear from the outset that the original funding model was based on bold assumptions that have simply not come to pass.
Here are the statements in the Radio NZ article attributed to Raewyn Tipene, CEO of the He Puna Marama Trust:
“We won’t be able to fund them [staff] all. That’s a fact: the funding won’t allow for us to have all the teachers we’re eligible for, plus the support staff we are used to having.”
“We will just have to work out how best to do with less.”
Unfortunately the piece did not clarify how much the funding was expected to fall by when they convert.
He Puna Marama, as Sponsor of the two charter schools, will receive nearly $4 million this year for the two schools: $3,074,521 for the secondary school and $883,073 for the primary school. These figures are published on the Ministry of Education website and are based on the projected opening rolls. Actual quarterly payments could vary depending on the student rolls as the year progresses.
The article stated that Te Kāpehu Whetū (the educational unit of He Puna Marama Trust) employed 26 staff for its 190 students, according to Mrs Tipene, who said: “That is a higher teacher to student ratio than a state school would have. A number of those staff are not trained teachers, they are mentors who support our senior students.”
Under the contracting out theory of the charter school initiative, the Sponsor may deal with the funding it receives in whatever way it feels is appropriate. So they can hire more teachers, more support staff, mentors etc. if they wish. Charter school supporters claim this bulk funding approach is one of the main features of the initiative. But the real issue has always been the quantum of funding they are receiving and not just how it is delivered.
Charter school supporters have hidden behind the narrative that the Ministry tried to make the original charter school funding model produce a level of funding that was “broadly comparable” to that of a “similar” State school. But this modelling approach was flawed from the outset.
First, making comparisons with State school funding is problematic, as State schools have many different sources of funding. The modelling had to try and reduce all of these to a simple approach that could be written into a commercial contract.
Second, State schools’ property is provided by the Crown but charter schools need to rent (or buy) their premises. So how this component was cashed up has caused problems from the outset, especially if the charter school did not reach the maximum roll on which the property funding was based, or took a long to get there.
Third, it also ignored the reality that the choices parents make are “local” and not “comparable”. So the problems with the original funding policy mean that the early charter schools have enjoyed far more funding than the local schools they were set up to compete against.
Save Our Schools NZ analysed the 2015 financial statements of South Auckland Middle School and compared these to Manurewa Intermediate. What we saw was that SAMS received funding per student of $11,740 after paying the cost of the premises it rented from the Elim Church. In contrast, Manurewa Intermediate received $5,907 in Teachers Salaries and Operations Grants funding per student, with its premises provided by the Crown.
This means the charter schools have been able to offer advantages such as hiring more teachers, which reduces class sizes, hiring more support staff, such as mentors and community liaison staff, or offering support to parents by way of free uniforms, free stationery and so on.
The National government changed the charter school funding model in 2015 but the revised model applies only to charter schools which commenced operations in 2017 and 2018. The government is therefore locked in by contract to the original funding model for the early schools.
A paper from the Ministry of Education to Bill English and Hekia Parata, dated 30 April 2015, set out the key problems with the original funding model and the proposed solution, which was based on:
“Moving to a true “per-student” funding model rather than a “per school” model;
Ensuring that the property funding flow is aligned with the current enrolment”.
The impact of the change in funding model is clear when we look at the funding for the closed First Round school, Whangaruru, in 2015 (its second year of operation) compared to that for the new Third Round school, Te Aratika, in 2017.
In 2015, Whangaruru received operational funding of $412,148 per quarter, or $41,215 per student p.a. based on 40 students. In the 4th quarter of 2017, Te Aratika received quarterly operational funding of$126,580, or $15,343 per student p.a. based on 33 students.
So two “similar” schools – in this case small secondary schools – have received vastly different amounts of funding per student under the two funding models.
The initial policy mistake of fully funding the cost of creating and operating small schools has meant the charter school initiative has cost the government more. This is why Bill English and Hekia Parata changed the funding model – over 3 years ago!
Whether this additional cost has paid off is arguable, as the formal evaluation failed to draw any meaningful conclusions as to the impact of the initiative.
But either way, one could just as easily assert that the Government should be prepared to invest more and help all students who need more support, not just those in an ideologically motivated experiment.
Save Our Schools NZ, August 2018
NZEI Te Riu Roa and the PPTA are launching an education bus tour in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch next week to raise awareness of the Government’s proposed radical reforms to school funding and the chronic underfunding of schools and early childhood services.
The bus tour aims to spread the Better Funding message to parents and whānau and the wider community, and educators will be talking to parents at drop-off and pick-up times about why children’s education needs more investment.
There will be Better Funding postcards to sign and send to Parliament, plus they’ll be asking the public to sign our Support Staff petition.
NZEI President, Louise Green explained:
“We are already seeing this with the Government’s freeze on the school operations grant, which funds support staff salaries and other general operating costs, and which has been frozen this year. Recent analysis of the 2016 operations grant shows that a majority of schools will be worse off when inflation is taken into account.
“Meanwhile, bulk funding in Early Childhood Education has also been frozen for five years in real terms, with services now under huge financial pressure to cut qualified teachers and increase group sizes.
“The quality of our children’s education shouldn’t be put at further risk from underfunding and flawed funding models. We need to restore full funding for quality teaching in early childhood, and at least an inflation increase to the operations grant to ensure schools have enough money to cover basic running costs, and to pay and keep on support staff who are funded from this allocation.
“No parent wants larger class sizes or fewer teachers for their kids. Our campaign is about valuing education and ensuring there is better funding to deliver the best education possible for New Zealand kids.”
This campaign is a great chance for families and wider communities to ask questions about what’s going on, so mosey on up and find out why educators are not at all happy with the Minister’s overall education policy and, in particular, the “Global Funding” plans.
Details of where the buses are going to be are here.
You can follow the campaign on Twitter at #betterfunding
In its May Budget, the National Government snuck through a freeze to the school operations grant that pays for support staff wages and all other essential school running costs.
“This funding freeze is unprecedented. No Government as far back as 1999 has ever frozen school funding before, so this will put already strained school budgets under more pressure,” said NZEI President Louise Green.
“…this year’s budget freeze actually equates to a 0.5% per-student cut in operational funding for schools next year because of roll growth”
“Research done by Infometrics shows this year’s budget freeze actually equates to a 0.5% per-student cut in operational funding for schools next year because of roll growth. It’s an even bigger cut when you take inflation and other costs into account.
“This cut will force schools to make trade-offs between support staff and other running costs. More pressure will go on parents to pay larger donations to cover the funding shortfall.
“We support more funding for the most disadvantaged students, but it should be in addition to adequate funding levels for all schools.”
“While the Government has put in a small amount of additional funding for the most disadvantaged children they have done this by cutting the per-student ops grant funding across all schools, creating winners and losers.
“We support more funding for the most disadvantaged students, but it should be in addition to adequate funding levels for all schools.
“Support staff like administration staff, teacher aides, technicians and others are most at risk of having their hours cut due to the funding freeze.
“Support staff already suffer from poor pay and precarious hours of employment despite their crucial role supporting children’s learning. The funding freeze puts them under greater stress and threat.
“We need better operational funding for schools that allows them to meet children’s educational needs. We also want support staff to be paid centrally like teachers are, so they are not competing with other costs and resourcing needs,” said Green.
The support staff campaign is part of the wider Better Funding Better Learning campaign being run with the PPTA to respond to the government’s proposal to introduce global funding, which could result in fewer teachers and larger class sizes.
“This funding freeze highlights the perils of bulk funding. We need to reject bulk funding for support staff and ensure it is not extended to include teaching staff,” said Ms Green.
Support staff will be starting their campaign by launching an online petition on Monday calling for parents and communities to message the Education Minister to reverse the funding freeze.
Dear Friends, Neighbours and carers of NZ kids,
There will be press criticism of teachers and unions here in NZ, over the meetings our unions have called.
The unions have done this to provide information, and a discussion forum about the new funding system Govt. is pushing through, which is an old, over-burdening and ineffective one, under a newish label.
It is a serious issue that will impact on the quality and the equality of our education system here in NZ for years to come.
That organisations are uniting on this one is surely a huge indicator of the seriousness of this latest move. Teachers are not a militant profession, despite what press would like you to believe. They usually get vocal when the well-being of students is threatened.
The issues are far bigger than the Govt would have the public believe.
It is a monster, that will leave boards and Principals with great difficulties, as all funding is lumped into one without protected components, such as the basic level of a set pot for Special Needs, (already not enough), that most schools choose to supplement, but some can’t. So when schools don’t have to account for it, it will all depend on the individual ethos of the Principal and Board.
To achieve funding for highest needs there are complex processes, with serious paperwork, however, on the back of these changes, there will be changes imminent there too and they will not be driven by better provision, but by cost.
New ways of identifying how much is allocated to meet high need schools, will be very challenging and provide another complex layer to battle through to secure appropriate funds for a school.
The result will likely be a hike in class sizes, with reduced support, and inaccurate fallible data about class size being bandied about as ‘proof’ class size doesn’t matter.
Believe me it matters to the quiet kid in the corner, the kid with APD, ASD, DYSLEXIA, to all the kids who need extending, or who have a query to be answered in a lesson and to the mental health of the teacher leading the class.
Also the elephant in the room of salaries. Schools with higher numbers of experienced staff, will have less income to spend on other aspects of school management. The pressure then shifts to how to cut bills in other ways. What would you be happy to see axed from your child’s educational experience? That arts group experience that makes them want to attend each day?
School budget management is already challenging, but increasing the responsibilities of Principals and Boards creates a massive learning need for them, so pushing it through will add extra strain to a stressful job.
So remember, reports in the News, and comments in the Media, are written by those who do not work in the profession, and are subject to their individual bias.
Remember that Ministers and most politicians currently do not listen to teachers, do not recognise the tremendous efforts and sacrifices they make, and undervalue the profession. They seem to see us as agents to deliver a very set prescribed agenda.
Teachers teach because they want to help their students to be the best they can be. They are driven to support their students, often at huge personal cost to their health and well-being, and that of their family.
So forgive us a few hours to try and safeguard the future of all New Zealand kids and the sanity and health of the individuals who go the extra mile daily.
Thanks for supporting us in our efforts to keep NZ education great and fair.
~ Carrie Sherring, NZ Teacher and SENCO.
PS If you could query the use of public funds to prop up Private Sector education with the Govt. , that would be awesome.
Shared with Carrie’s permission.
Further Reading: http://betterfunding.org.nz/
Educators from early childhood to secondary schooling are uniting to respond to the government’s latest funding proposal, saying it could result in fewer teachers and larger class sizes.
The government has also refused to explore any increase in funding for education.
PPTA and NZEI Te Riu Roa today announced they are holding combined meetings of their 60,000 members in September. The meetings are to plan a response to the government’s “global funding” proposal, which is effectively a return to the failed bulk funding experiment of the 1990s.
The education unions have never before undertaken joint meetings of this scale, involving principals, teachers and support staff from ECE to secondary.
The government’s renewed attempt to propose bulk funding would mean all staffing and school operational funding would be delivered to schools on a per-student basis in the form of cash and “credits” for staffing.
This would mean parents on Boards would have to make trade offs between the number of teachers they employ and other non-teaching costs of running a school. This would incentivise:
Early childhood education has languished under bulk funding for many years and most services have had to make cuts, hire fewer qualified teachers and increase fees to parents. Schools would face a similar threat.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Louise Green and PPTA President Angela Roberts announced the nationwide Paid Union Meetings at a joint media conference at Wellington Girls’ High School today.
Ms Roberts said bulk funding was simply another back-door attempt to increase class sizes, which outraged parents when it was last attempted three years ago.
“This proposal would result in parents on school boards being forced to do the government’s dirty work the moment the budget gets squeezed. The complexities of juggling credits would also undermine the board focus on improving children’s learning,” she said.
Ms Green said early childhood education and support staff had suffered under a form of bulk funding for many years and to extend that across the sector would be disastrous.
“The past five years of a per-child funding freeze in ECE have forced many centres to compromise quality by reducing the number of qualified teachers. There is no reason to think bulk funding would work any differently in schools,” she said.
The Paid Union Meetings will be held around the country between 5 and 16 September, starting with Auckland Town Hall on 5 September, Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre on 6 September and Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena on 7 September.
Meetings will be held at either 9am or 1.30pm to minimise disruption to teaching programmes, children and parents.
It is a basic fact of schooling worldwide that children from advantaged homes arrive at school education-ready, while the disadvantaged are not. Children from advantaged backgrounds are often able to read and calculate, hold complex conversations and have a grasp of current events. Many children from disadvantaged backgrounds may not know how to hold a book. Good early childhood education can inject a level of school-readiness but cannot entirely overcome the disadvantage. The best estimates of the average learning gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged groups, top to bottom, is about two years of learning at school entry.
Since the school reforms of 1989, school operational funding has included an element of measuring disadvantage, based on census data, to provide additional support for schools and hopefully improve learning outcomes. The model was very simple. Find out where the children from a given school live (in census terms, the ‘mesh blocks’), examine the social characteristics (income, benefit, household crowding etc) of the mesh blocks, calculate the level of disadvantage of that school and provide funding on that basis.
The much maligned ‘decile system’ came about because, in order to simplify funding arrangements, funding was allocated not to the school’s individual situation but on the grouped ranking with other schools. Decile 1, for example, contained the schools with the ten percent of most disadvantaged students.
This system has endured because it is relatively simple, data driven and easily updated every five years. It is hated by the sector because decile has become associated, in the mind of the public, with school quality. This was foreseeable and inevitable, as every single piece of research carried out on the reasons for school choice highlight social characteristics as the main factor influencing choice. Thus, higher decile equates with better children, thus better quality, in the mind of ‘choosers’.
And how could it be otherwise, really, when all our teachers are taught in the same institutions, school upkeep is relatively even, there is a national curriculum and the only significant variation in schools is the children populating the classrooms? As my research found in 2015, there has been massive white flight from the lowest decile schools over 20 years, which has meant that, on average, decile one schools are now 2.5 times smaller than decile 10 schools. This is a problem, of course, that abolishing deciles will not fix, but will simply become invisible and non-measurable.
The myth is that, in getting rid of deciles, the flight from disadvantaged schools would be halted. But it is the school choice system that has facilitated the ethnic/class flight, not the decile labels. In the absence of deciles, parents find other labels to put on schools, such as “gang”, “brown”, “violent”, “not children like ours”. We know this because other countries with choice and no convenient decile labels experience the same population movements.
To get rid of the perceived decile problem, the Ministry could simply fund each school on the census characteristics without doing the ranking and decile-making process. This would involve quite a lot more work with having to consider what each school should get on its own merits and in relation to other schools. It would increase bureaucracy without changing much in terms of actual funding. There would, as ever, be winners and losers in a zero-sum funding system.
However, Ministry eyes are now set on a richer prize. The census is about old technology. It only happens every five years and is based on paper and pencil. In the new technological world, there must be a better way!
And there is. The generic term is called data-sharing. It comes in two types. The first would be a direct comparison between other agency records ( in the current budget proposal, MSD benefit records) and school enrolments. As far as I can tell, no such data-sharing agreement exists, and it would arguably constitute a major potential breach of privacy to allow such databases to be matched. This probably is not the route intended by the budget announcement.
Second, is the relatively new ability to anonymously match data from different administrative systems, for example tax records, educational enrolment or outcomes, benefit records, student loans, ACC and health through a personal unique identifier (UID). The system, called the IDI, is administered by Statistics New Zealand and provides exciting opportunities for researchers and others to answer key population-based questions.
But, and it is a huge but, the wonderful indicators able to be compared for research purposes lie under an immoveable blanket of confidentiality. Were the data to be identifiable, it would be Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ come to life. The question is whether using the IDI for funding purposes is a bridge too far in terms of preserving the utter confidentiality of the system. There is also a second question, given that many disadvantaged children are not cared for by their own parent/s, but by grandparents and other carers, as to whether the IDI is up to the challenge. However, we will put that aside for the moment. People who want to read up on the use of IDI data to identify disadvantage should refer to Treasury report 16/1.
The data that would need to be matched would be in three databases (at least) – parent to child (such as birth data, but this would exclude children born out of NZ), school attendance for the children (by school name) and length of time on benefit for the parent. In statistical terms it is a pretty simple match. The Ministry would not know exactly who would be receiving the funding, so basic confidentiality could be maintained.
But, at the margins two very worrying elements emerge. The first is the inaccuracies caused by post-birth migrants, unusual family formations, foster families and so on, that probably make up 10% of all students and a larger share of the disadvantaged. It would take a lot more work to count them (you would need to also look at immigration data and CYF data, for example).
The second concern is that there would be plenty of schools in the higher deciles where only a handful of children come from long-term benefit led families. If funding were received, for example for five children in a school, you might as well put a rubber stamp on their head reading ”I am from a long term benefit dependent family”. Also, as the IDI scheme does not allow data for less than 3 cases (for obvious reasons), there would be a necessary marginal error in smaller groups.
My first concern as a researcher on school funding is to try and find out exactly how the scheme is going to work. I suspect that it has essentially been designed as a test case or pilot scheme in using administrative data for funding purposes, and I am sure there will be widespread interest in how it works, and how much it will cost to implement. Then they will need to work through the ethical implications of such models. I have begun by asking a series of OIA questions which have been put to the Ministry. These are below.
There are also some policy issues to be sorted out. For example, the IDI provides the possibility that each child could become a walking voucher offering schools a certain amount of funding for education based on personal and familial characteristics. There is certainly ongoing interest in school voucher systems by some groups, and the IDI would provide a finely tuned ability to cost out each person according to their individual disadvantage. But the social and ethical questions this would raise hopefully put it beyond any serious scope.
The important implication would be that a ranking of school characteristics for funding purposes would be replaced with a ranking of individual characteristics.
I have sent to following OIA request to the Ministry of Education to attempt to better understand the scheme as announced.
Please provide the following information under the OIA 1982. In the Minister’s published speech to the National Cross-Sectional forum on 27 May this year, she noted:
To this end, Budget 2016 targets an additional $43.2 million over four years to state and state-integrated schools educating up to 150,000 students from long-term welfare-dependent families.
These students are one of the largest identifiable groups within our education system that is most at risk of educational underachievement.
Please answer the following questions related to this announcement:
1. Please provide copies of any briefing papers, policy papers or cabinet papers related to this announcement.
2. What data matching approach will be used to discover how many students from long term welfare dependent families attend each school, so that the funding can be allocated?
3. How is ‘long term welfare dependent families’ to be defined?
4. What legal basis allows for data-matching for such a purpose?
5. We gather from the Minister’s statement that the $42.1 million (as it shows later in the Minister’s speech) includes: “$15.3 million for an extra 1250 students to access in-class support.”
6. This leaves a net $26.8 million for allocation to the long term welfare dependent families over four years. Is that figure roughly correct?
7. This then indicates an annual sum of around $6.7 million available for allocation. Is that figure roughly correct?
8. This appears to translate to an annual sum per long term welfare dependent student (if there are 150,000) of just under $45. Is that figure roughly correct?
9. What is the total estimated cost to the Ministry of Education in developing, testing, implementing and administering this scheme over the four years of its life?
10. What are the next steps in developing and implementing the programme?
– Liz Gordon, Pukeko Research
The Government announced today that it’s “reviewing the funding systems for schools and early childhood education (ECE) services”, and were keen to reassure observers that the aim is “to improve the overall design of the education system and ensure that all New Zealand children and young people receive the best possible education”.
I’ve read through, and here are my initial thoughts…
The review says it aims to give children “the best possible education”.
However, agreeing what constitutes “the best possible education” is a huge hurdle to begin with. Of course, the matter does need to be addressed; I simply urge caution, as there is huge debate around what education is for, and it is by no means a settled matter.
For example, what I think is important for my child may not be remotely what another parent thinks is important for theirs, and neither view might match with what, say, David Seymour or Hekia Parata think is important. And that’s before we even ask the experts …
So when the Ministry of Education says it aiming for “the best possible education” they really must – before all else can progress – get a very clear idea of what that means.
The system as it stands is not fit for purpose – I think just about everyone agrees on that. The decile system is, as Hekia Parata herself said, “a blunt instrument”, and money is often not there where it is most needed. So it is right to consider how it can be improved.
However, there are myriad ways things could be changed, some for the better, some not so much.
I was struck by the assertion in the Ministry’s terms of reference for the review that “accountability is weak”. What is meant by that? And how will accountability be strengthened? The same section mentions “progression”, but since National Standards have been allowed to embed despite the very clear fact that they fail to map progression in any way that is appropriately matched with child development, I do worry what any progression measure might look like.
I admit that I fear more standards, tick boxes and data-gathering exercises – hoops for teachers to jump – none of which will improve much, if anything at all.
The review document says that any new system must “better support children at risk of educational under-achievement”. This is laudable, of course. But again, we come back to what good support looks like, and given the support from certain quarters for charter schools – which have yet to prove they do anything better than a similarly resourced state school would – one has to wonder what the Education Minister and Under-Secretary view as “better”…
And this thing about property … why is that ringing alarm bells? The review will “…support school leaders to focus more on leading teaching and learning by clarifying property- related responsibilities and accountabilities…” Huh? Anyone got any thoughts on that one? Redcliffs? Peggy Burrows? Te Pumanawa o te Wairua charter school? Anyone?
And despite reports from all manner of experts, including the OECD, saying that school choice has no positive impact on education systems, the review says it will protect “diversity of choice for parents/whānau and consistency and certainty of funding for different types of schools.” That could be a great thing; It depends what it means.
Because, as soon as education reformers bandy around the word choice, you should make like a meercat and be on full alert. In that vein, my GERM BS Spotting Systems are flashing code red, and I can’t help but ask, is “consistency and certainty of funding for different types of schools” just code for promising to fund private schools and charter schools to the same level of state schools? If not, what is it?
The review document states that the Advisory Group is to engage with the Ministry to “comment on the work being undertaken”. However, it can’t comment outside of that … no discussion is to be had without permission, it seems. In fact, it’s very clear that “Advisory Group discussion is also confidential to the group” and “Members may be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement”. So much for transparency.
Forgive me if I appear overly cynical – but, sadly, I know my civil service speak, and I know the convoluted and slippery language of education reformers, and the one thing years of observing both has taught me is that one has to employ one’s best analytical skills to uncover what is really being said.
Or to put it more bluntly, to find out what’s really going on, you have to cut through the crap.
And what’s going on here could be a whole lot messier than it first appears.
We can only hope, then, that all members of the Advisory Group do what is best for school students rather than what is in their self interest, and that they are fairly heard within the group.
~ Dianne Khan, SOSNZ
You can read more about the Advisory Group on the Ministry of Education’s dedicated page, here.
David Seymour’s press release today about the collapse of North Shore based private school, Corelli, has two whoppers in it.
First, he incorrectly implies that if a student moves from a private school into a state school then the taxpayer would be $5,000 a year poorer for each student.
This is nonsense. The average amount of government funding per student in the state school sector is derived by dividing a whole raft of aggregated costs by the very large number of students enrolled. But that does not mean that each additional student – at the margin – would cost the taxpayer that amount of money.
Many of the costs incurred in running our schools do not immediately change as the number of students changes. So, it might be possible to absorb more students into the existing school network and hardly change the costs involved. Some costs may go up but by no means all of them will.
The second point in Seymour’s reckless release is that he conveniently overlooks the fact that Corelli has a large number of International students on its roll.
The preliminary March roll data suggests Corelli had as many as 19 international students out of its total roll of 37.
So, if they were all “forced” into attending a state school, the taxpayer would actually benefit, as the international students pay fees that are often over $20,000 a year!
With misinformation as grossly misleading as this, it’s no wonder the public doesn’t trust politicians.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
Many school principals are appalled at reports that charter schools are receiving funding for students they don’t have enrolled while public schools are desperately short of resources for vulnerable children.
It’s been estimated that more than a million dollars has been lost to the public sector to fund up to 180 so-called “ghost students” at charter schools.
Principals say public schools are finding it increasingly difficult to find resources for the growing number of special needs students.
“That’s public money going straight to the private sector – money that we need for our public schools,” says May Road School Principal Lynda Stuart.
She says that while new public schools are set up in areas of population growth, charter schools are being established to compete with nearby schools. This requires huge amounts of unnecessary establishment funding in addition to funding for children that don’t even attend.
In Whangarei, Maungatapere School Principal Judy Eagles says that in the public sector, schools lose funding if students don’t come to school for 20 days.”
“So where’s the equity in that?”
She says extra funding siphoned off for charter schools could create more programmes and provide extra support in her school for teachers and students with special needs.
“What’s particularly galling is there is just not enough resourcing to deal with the increasingly high needs of children coming into our schools, or for much-needed building upgrades,” says Lynda Stuart.
Auckland’s Fairburn School Principal Frances Nelson says the bar for receiving extra support is getting higher while at the same time there has been a big increase in the number of children starting school with major learning difficulties.
“This includes children starting school with conditions such as autism that have not been picked up earlier. Five years ago, we could have got funding for many students that we can no longer get funding for.”
Between them, New Zealand’s nine publicly-funded charter schools are guaranteed funding for at least 860 students but enrolment figures have shown they have fewer than 700.
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.
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?
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
Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, misled the House yesterday in response to questions about the large surplus accumulating in one of her charter schools.
“As I advised the House yesterday, the school is leasing premises while it secures land, if it is able to do so; upon which it will build a school if it is able to do so.”
But Hekia, the charter school funding model that you developed is a leasing model. It was never supposed to be so generous that it would fund a charter school sponsor in the purchase of property.
Here is an extract from the paper, titled “Resourcing Partnership Schools” that Hekia Parata took to Cabinet in February 2013:
“17. I propose that the Crown should not provide a capital funding stream sufficient to purchase land and build a new school. Since Partnership Schools will belong to the sponsor, this would be a significant cost for an asset that the Crown does not own.
18. It is assumed that many Partnership Schools will rent premises…
19. I propose using the Cash for Buildings model as the basis for the property support funding stream for Partnership Schools….”
The Resourcing Partnership Schools – Cabinet Social Policy Committee , in the section on information releases:
But what has the Cash for Buildings model produced for Paraoa?
An amount of $737,936 per annum compared to the school’s total property costs of $239,097 in 2014. This means the taxpayer is pumping an extra half a million dollars a year – every year – into the Sponsor’s bank account.
Clearly the funding model is flawed and does not even remotely approximate actual leasing costs, as the Minister’s paper argued it would. Instead, it is the main source of the 2014 operating surplus of $637,170.
And what has happened to the exceedingly generous one-off Establishment Payment of $1,880,693?
The 31 December 2013 He Puna Marama Trust accounts state the following:
“…the Trust received a one-off Establishment Payment from the Ministry of Education in recognition of the costs that the Trust will need to incur to ensure the school is operational for the 2014 year. Expenditure of $123,160 was incurred for Kura development. In addition, operating costs of $5,151 were incurred prior to balance date.”
So, with the school opening on schedule in February 2014, the establishment period is now complete and expenditure has proven to be nowhere near the level indicated by the magnitude of the Establishment Payment.
It was never the intention of the Establishment Payment to be held back and used for later property or other capital purchases and Hekia Parata knows this.
There are several other examples of how flawed the charter school funding model is proving to be.
The controversial Whangaruru based school, now known as “Wairua”, received enough funding in advance from the Ministry to buy the farmland where the school is based. But even though they now own that property, the charter school still receives $412,287 per annum as the “Property & Insurance” component of its annual operational funding from the Ministry. Why?
The Minister is clutching at straws and trying to defend the indefensible.
Hekia Parata stated quite clearly that the Crown should not provide a capital funding stream but the practical effect of her charter school funding model is that this is precisely what is happening.
Save Our Schools reiterates its call for an urgent review of the charter school funding model.
There are flaws in the model’s policy base, the method of funding and the amounts it is allocating to individual schools.
~ Bill Courtney, SOSNZ
Primary schools will need to make budget cuts, following a 1% increase in their operations grant, which does not keep pace with the growing costs of running a school.
In today’s budget, school operational grants have been increased by $42 million over four years, which will not cover the increasing costs, such as a 3.6 percent rise in electricity charges. Meanwhile, the post-Novopay payroll system will receive an extra $53 million over four years.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Louise Green said boards would be forced to make budget cuts and the big losers would be the already underpaid support staff who were crucial to student success.
“Teacher aides in particular are poorly paid despite the vital role they play in supporting students. Schools employ teacher aides out of their operations grant, and when money is tight, there is no room for pay rises. Teacher aides with years of experience are frequently paid barely more than minimum wage and are the first to have their hours reduced,” she said.
“New Zealand continues to spend less on primary schools than the OECD average, and pressure on parents for donations and fund raising can only increase as government funding falls further behind actual costs.”
The 1% operations grant increase compares poorly with the 2% increase in 2014, 1.9% in 2013, 2% in 2012 and 2.9% in 2011.
While public schools cope with miserly funding increases, money has been found to establish two more charter schools by 2017 even though hardly any of the current crop of charter schools are even meeting their minimum guaranteed rolls.
“The millions of dollars required for establishment grants and high per-student funding would be much better spent on supporting students in their current schools,” said Ms Green.
NZEI President Louise Green ph 027 488 9875
Media Advisor Melissa Schwalger ph 027 276 7131
“Yesterday’s story about quarter of a charter school’s students leaving in the course of a year throws into relief some of the inconsistencies between the way the government treats charters and regular public schools.
Charter school operator Nick Hyde has said that students leaving during the year , supposedly having finished their qualifications, is something to be celebrated*. I’m sure that plenty of secondary school principals would like to be able to agree – but that’s not the way they are supposed to operate.
In 2011 the government introduced a new funding regime to try and make schools keep students all year – by penalising those that don’t. Quarterly funding means that if students leave (for any reason) during the year, their school loses funding. Here’s the Minister at the time explaining the new policy:
Education Minister Anne Tolley said quarterly roll counts were introduced to ensure funding was more accurate, and directed to where it was needed.
“I’m sure taxpayers will be astonished to find out that schools have previously received funding for students who are no longer attending.
“This change provides an incentive for schools to retain students. If students are at school and engaged in learning they have a much higher chance of gaining qualifications and skills.
Contrast this to charter school funding – guaranteed for a minimum roll for the whole year, however many students leave during that time (not to mention the generous funding rates…)
Currently three of the five charter schools are below their minimum roll (down 29, down 21 and down 2), and two above (up 2 and up 17). I wonder how many students who were enrolled at charters are now at other educational institutions, receiving more state funding there?
President Judith Nowotarski said the law was clear that absolutely no school payments were compulsory, apart from attendance dues at state integrated schools and voluntary purchases of goods and services such as stationery or canteen items.
“Primary and secondary public education in this country is free. Schools can ask for donations but they must be absolutely clear that there is no compulsion to pay, and students may not be excluded from any activity because of non-payment,” she said.
“Schools are under massive budgetary pressure to deliver a 21st century education on inadequate government funding. The government must ensure proper funding so that schools aren’t forced to try to shift any of the cost of tuition or materials onto families.”
“It’s an extremely difficult position for schools to be in – we expect things like class trips and modern ICT, but schools simply can’t do it without putting their hand out to parents.
“The decile funding system is not the problem – whether they are decile 1 or decile 10, all schools struggle to make ends meet. The issue is that government funding is inadequate across the board. We don’t need to wait for a long, drawn-out review of the funding system to tell us the obvious. Schools need more money right now and we call on the government to significantly increase school funding.”
The latest available figures show that in 2010 New Zealand’s per student expenditure in primary and secondary schools was below the OECD mean across 31 countries.
and think parents are on your side.
and if you believe teachers agree
with what you are doing
and don’t feel taken for a ride,
a straight answer?
Have you lied?
Answers on a postcard, please.
Here, Chris Hipkins and Catherine Delahunty try to get a straight answer out of Hekia about proposals to change the way schools are funded: