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Research shows schools facing double jeopardy

September 8 2005

Latest research shows schools facing double jeopardy – NZSTA

Schools are under even greater financial pressure, with their ability to raise funding stretched to the limit, the latest research from the New Zealand Council of Education Research (NZCER) shows.

New Zealand School Trustees Association president Chris Haines says the NZCER research found that most of the 17 effective schools involved in an on-going study into school funding are in a tighter financial situation than the previous year. The research also shows that the schools’ ability to raise non-government revenue may have reached a plateau.

These findings are contained in the NZCER’s second report in the three-year longitudinal study into New Zealand schools’ financial decision making. This independent study is funded by the New Zealand School Trustees Association

Chris Haines says school boards of trustees and principals will not be surprised to hear that many schools are now struggling to make ends meet as the Government’s operations grant funding fails to meet today’s demands on schools.

“It was bad enough that the first research report in 2004 found that schools were unable to maintain existing programmes without using non-government funding.”

“But it is of even greater concern when this latest research shows the boards’ ability to raise non-government revenue may well have reached a plateau. This comes at time when their costs are even less able to be contained.”

He says this places NZSTA’s member boards and principals in a “double jeopardy” situation.

“Maintaining essential programmes is increasingly dependent on using non-government funds, yet the ability to raise these funds is now clearly constrained.”

The schools in the study had identified issues with both the amount of the operations grant and the formula used, which was set in 1989, he says. These schools had done their best to meet expectations placed on them since that time, by both raising additional revenue, and in cautious budgeting.
Latest research shows schools facing double jeopardy – NZSTA

But even so many schools were having to cut costs in key areas, he says.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing is schools being forced into making tradeoffs that can impact on students. These include class sizes, the courses available, programmes for students needing additional support, as well as cutting back on support staff costs, ICT expenditure, curriculum area budgets and professional development for teachers.”

Chris Haines welcomes the Government’s commitment to a working party to investigate the operational needs of schools, and the subsequent adequacy of schools’ resources. However, it could be two or more years before significant financial relief is delivered to struggling schools.

“The evidence shows that the current levels of operational grant funding are inadequate to enable schools to meet current expectations. It shows clearly that an immediate increase in schools’ operating grants, beyond the already budgeted increases, is now essential.”

Latest research shows schools facing double jeopardy – NZSTA

Key findings of the NZCER report

- Most of the schools were facing a tighter financial situation. Only two of the 17 schools are in a comfortable financial position, and able to think of further development to their programmes. The schools seemed to have reached a plateau in the revenue they could raise, and their costs were less able to be contained.

- Pressure points on school budgets, found in 2004, have increased in 2005. These are the costs of support staff, additional teachers, ICT and property. Depreciation is also an issue for schools.

- Secondary schools that expanded their programmes on the back of revenue from international students were particularly hard hit by the decline in international students. Secondary schools can no longer rely on international students as an additional source of revenue.

- High-decile schools facing financial difficulties increased the level of parent donations. This was not an option for low-decile schools. Increasing the level of parent donations is a rare event, and indications were that schools in the study may not be able to increase them further in the next few years. There may be growing parent resistance to paying donations.

- While schools have been successful in raising more money to support their programmes, provide ICT, and modernise their property, they would welcome more reliable sources of funding.

- The Ministry of Education's forthcoming review of school operational funding is therefore extremely timely. Schools in the study would welcome not only increased amounts, but also changes to the formula used to calculate it, so that the new costs that have arisen for schools since the formula was set in 1989 can be properly recognised.

ENDS

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