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Public Education and the 2004 Budget

Public Education and the 2004 Budget

QPEC is launching a major initiative to pressure the government for substantial increases in funding for public education in the 2004 budget.

People involved in public education are not good lobbyists. The tendency is to leave it to the government - especially a Labour government - to look after education and fund it to produce quality for everyone.

However despite huge budget surpluses - $5.6 billion this year - the flow of funds to our early childhood centres, schools, polytechnics and universities over recent years has been minimal with the quality of public education under serious threat.

By comparison the private sector are vigorous and successful lobbyists. In the past 4 years for example funding to private tertiary education providers (PTE’s) has increased from just $17 million per year when Labour first took office to well over $150 million this year. This funding has exploded despite the often poor quality courses, low quality management systems and the lack of accountability which have proliferated among PTE’s.

However, instead of pressuring the government, our public institutions have become focused on pressuring parents and students to make up the shortfall between government provision and what is needed for quality education. This means for example that school fees (“donations”) have increased rapidly over the past decade while tertiary education fees – along with student debt – have skyrocketed.

It is high time that public education shifted its focus to the government and demanded the resources for quality education. Just as we have high expectations for our students in public education we must also have high expectations of the government to deliver resources to ensure that what is provided at all levels is of the highest quality and is resourced to this end.

With this in mind we believe we must take a leaf from the private sector’s book and begin to lobby effectively. For this a concerted effort is needed across the sector in the lead-up to the 2004 budget.

The first stage of this campaign has been launched with letters sent to every school in New Zealand this week with the other sectors to be followed up shortly. We are inviting parents, staff, principals, boards of early childhood centres, schools, polytechs and universities to –

Write to the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Education with their concerns

Inform parents and families of the need for increased government support for public education and encourage them to make their voices heard in similar ways

Write to/talk with their local media about local issues and funding concerns

Write/visit local MP’s to put quality public education at the centre of government attention

Background

So what are some of the key areas where substantial funding is needed?

Early Childhood Education:

Access and quality remain the critical issues. A rampant private early childhood sector continues to be government funded while public centres struggle financially to meet the needs of early childhood children and their families.

What Must Be done?

Substantial steps to make early childhood education free, accessible and of the highest quality for all children. The aim must be to ensure that all children have free access to a minimum of 30 hours per week of early childhood education. Even 4 year olds currently receive less than half this allocation.

Abandon bulk funding of teacher salaries in early childhood education to ensure quality is not compromised by cost.

Increased government funding for family and community based early childhood education and the removal of funding for “for profit” providers.

Schools:

Parent “donations” continue to rise dramatically as the concept of a “free” education recedes rapidly. Operations Grants do not meet the needs of schools delivering a full curriculum and quality learning for children. At the same time schools are expected to absorb the costs of additional government requirements eg implementation of NCEA. $40 million per year continues to go from public funds to subsidise private schools with the wealthiest schools now having almost double the income per student and much better pupil/teacher ratios than our public schools. Smaller schools face the threat of closure with a predicted 60,000 fewer students in coming years but instead of using this as a heaven sent opportunity to reduce class sizes, the government is ruthlessly forcing school closures on communities.

What must be done?

A substantial, meaningful increase in the operations grant for all public schools so that schools are not required to fundraise to cover basic necessities

A move to “needs-based” funding rather than “bulk funding” so the actual cost of schooling is met by the government

Ending the closure of viable high quality community schools

Public money for public schools

Using the predicted reduction in student numbers over coming years to reduce the pupil/teacher ratio across the board and most specifically in schools in low income communities, immersion Maori classes and kura kaupapa Maori.

Tertiary Education:

Student debt is the millstone around tertiary education and our entire community. It is unsustainable, creates inequalities relating to ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background and age. Despite this the government is working hard to “manage down” expectations of significant improvements in funding to reduce student debt and increase student allowances instead of addressing squarely an unconscionable policy. Maori education is funded via “private providers” rather than as a partnership based on the Treaty of Waitangi. Government energy is diverted from education of New Zealanders to rescue missions for failed private providers and towards ensuring the placement of private foreign students in our public institutions is not reduced.

What Must Be Done?

A policy direction to fully government funded tertiary education is the only ethical policy direction. Yes we can afford it! Anything less that this would be morally weak and a failure to support our emerging generation.

A universal student allowance. We quite rightly provide universal allowances for our elderly citizens so why not for our young engaged in study?

Government support for Maori initiatives in tertiary education based on partnership under the Treaty rather than as an add-on to the private sector

A policy direction to build quality within our public tertiary education sector and abandon government funding to private education providers

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