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Boarding allowance rise is key issue for rural voters

Boarding allowance rise is key issue for rural voters

For rural folk there’s a glaring omission in all the political parties’ education policies announced so far - an increase in the school boarding allowance.

Federated Farmers President Katie Milne says the ‘Access Barrier’ boarding allowance for pupils from remote areas of $3,200 hasn’t increased in more than a decade. Fee rises have continued apace; it’s not uncommon for boarding costs for state and state- integrated high schools to be $8,000-$10,000, and sometimes as high as $15,000 a year.

"For a farm manager with three kids, boarding school costs can be half of their take-home pay," Katie says.

Parents in remote areas have to make tough choices between hours of their children’s week being swallowed by travel, or forking out for boarding fees that exceed the government allowance by many thousands of dollars.

The issue makes it more difficult to attract staff to work in remote areas, and is a stumbling block for regional growth.

There was talk late last year of a review by the Ministry of Education, but nothing has eventuated.

The situation is made even more galling for rural families because the Ministry’s budget for access barrier boarding allowances has been underspent in recent years.

It comes from the same budget as a ‘Multiple Barriers’ boarding allowance ($7,500 + $500 for pastoral care), available for pupils anywhere in New Zealand who have one or more difficulties such as behavioural issues, low educational achievement, poor participation at school. While the multiple barriers allowance has been increased several times in the last decade the access barrier allowance hasn’t changed.

Federated Farmers is not questioning the multiple barriers allowance but asks why the access barrier allowance is less than half that amount.

Farming families want a good education for their children, and with the increasing complexity and technology of the primary export/agri-business sector, that’s important for New Zealand too.

"We’d like all political parties to address this key issue for rural New Zealand in their education manifestos, and commit to increasing the access barrier boarding allowance as a priority after the September election," Katie says.


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