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Parents Paying for ‘Free’ Education

Parents Paying for ‘Free’ Education

The New Zealand Parent Teacher Association (NZPTA) is concerned about the increasing pressure that parents are coming under to top up schools’ operational funding, particularly in the medium to high decile schools.

Through school donations and PTA fundraising activities, New Zealand parents have always made a significant financial contribution to their children’s education. Although it is difficult to measure exactly how much money parents contribute to our ‘free’ education system every year, the evidence suggests that it is steadily increasing.

According to the 1989 Education Act, we are supposed to have a free education system for everyone aged between 5 and 19 years old. The reality is that our education system is only free for some, depending on the decile rating of the school a child attends.

The Government maintains that we still have a free education system while using the decile rating system to decide how much parents can afford to pay for their children’s education. As the decile rating of a school increases, so too does the expectation that parents will make up the difference between what it costs to provide a quality education and what the Government funds.

NZPTA recognises that the increasing pressure on schools’ boards of trustees to make up this difference means that they need to ask parents for financial contributions. However, we are concerned to continually receive reports of schools that do not make it clear what payments are compulsory and what is a voluntary donation. Schools cannot insist on the payment of a donation and are not allowed to unfairly discriminate against students when parents can not or do not pay.

The Ministry of Education Circular 1998/25 (available on the Ministry of Education website makes it quite clear what state schools can and can’t insist on payment for. Some items they can ask parents to pay for include stationery that has been agreed to, the cost of materials for project work if it is taken home, and food or travel expenses on a school camp. Otherwise, they cannot legally charge for any costs associated with the delivery of the curriculum or operation of the school. Any other payments should either be for optional items, such as the school magazine, or clearly defined as voluntary donations. The board of trustees should also be able to explain to parents why a donation is required and how it will benefit their child’s education.

If you have any questions or concerns about school fees or donations, please visit our website

NZPTA acknowledges the huge contribution that so many parents make to our children’s education every year, both financially and in the time that they give to help with school activities. We hope that adequate and equitable Government funding of schools will allow parents to spend more time involved in their child’s education by joining in with their learning experiences, rather than frying sausages to raise a few extra dollars for the school.

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