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Liberty Belle - March 18 2005

Liberty Belle - March 18 2005

A lunacy sighting of my own this week. I've been visiting schools around the country, talking to principals and board members about their funding. The School Trustees Association this week launched a campaign - "Put the free back into free education". While I don't entirely agree with the slogan (someone pays - there's no such thing as a free lunch) I admire them for taking on the Government in election year.

There's no doubt that schools are seriously under-funded. The Minister, David Benson-Pope, can repeat his mantras until they send him to sleep, but if he woke up and talked to real people he'd see that all schools are struggling. Benson-Pope's latest dismissive response was that if they're balancing the books then they must have enough money. They balance the books to survive. But to do the right thing by their students they rob money from the operations grant to pay for teachers. Others take away from the curriculum to pay for property maintenance, and endless OSH and Ministry compliance issues.

A school in West Auckland I visited is one of the last primary schools out west to still have a swimming pool. It's just too expensive now - with all the testing, fencing, safety surfaces, etc - for schools to have pools. No wonder some four out of five young New Zealanders can't swim to save themselves. Isn't it ironic? We've gone mad on protecting them from themselves (can't slip over - might hurt themselves) and now if they get into the slightest difficulty in the water they'll drown!

This morning I went to Wellington East Girls' College - one of six schools in New Zealand which, in 1989 when Tomorrow's Schools came in, received its operations funding based on its costs. Since then the school's treasurer (and it's been the same person all that time) has recorded increases in funding compared with increases in costs. Funding hasn't even kept pace with inflation, let alone with costs.

But rising costs are not the fault of the school - they are foisted onto the school by government policies such as immigration policies which see schools like Wellington East struggling to cope with children for whom the English language, the Western culture and every single thing about New Zealand is alien and scary. School, often, is the enemy. Teachers try to cope. Many give up, dispirited, and move away from the profession.

This government is sitting on a $7 billion surplus (despite Michael Cullen's protestations to the contrary). It's taken too much tax off people. We pay taxes, in part, to fund the learning of our children so they will contribute to society, become wealth creators, good employees, happy people.

The Government's flinging millions of dollars at questionable tertiary training so unemployment figures are hidden in election year, but primary and secondary students (save a small few) don't vote - so the Government can be mean to them.

Look John look, see the Minister sleep.
Run Janet run, hear him snore.

Yours in liberty


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