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National Education: Bill English Newsletter 8/7/05

8 July 2005

Early Election Rebate debate

Early childhood took off as an election issue this week when National announced a 33% rebate on out of pocket childcare costs, up to $5000. The rebate is direct support for families where a sole parent is working, both parents are working or a parent is eligible for student allowance. Parents will claim the rebate by forwarding their invoices to IRD. The rebate will cover centre-based care, home-based care and informal care provided by a tax paying adult.

The rebate directly addresses the costs families face with two parents at work. It treats all forms of early education and care in the same way. The rebate is additional to the existing sessional payments and child care subsidy.

National supports the funding rates increase from 1st July and recent increases in the Child Care Subsidy. The rebate will apply to out of pocket expenses paid by parents over and above the child care subsidy. You can find further information on the rebate and case studies can be found here .

The Alternative Is A Lottery

National also confirmed it will scrap Labour's 20 hours free policy due to start up in 2 years time. It's too much of a lottery for parents. Labour's scheme leaves out 70,000 children under three in care or education as well as at least 45,000 children aged 3 and 4 in playcentres, privately owned centres, some home care networks and Kohanga reo.

Despite these facts Labour say their scheme is "universal" as if all parents will get the benefit. Labour is making ridiculous claims. Mallard and Maharey also claim that all families are $2000-$5000 better off under 20 Hours free. How can they all be better off when Labour's package costs $52m and National's costs $160m ?

Both Dr Cullen and Trevor Mallard have publicly stated that they believe these types of centres offer higher quality care. There is absolutely no research evidence that this is the case but their preference does coincide strongly with the NZEI's view. The education establishment has lined up behind Labour, but mums and dads read it as Labour trying to manipulate their choices about their kids. This is a fight National is happy to have.

Unions Happy Ad Campaign

Union members must be wondering what's going on with the expensive full-page ad campaign run by the NZEI and PPTA. The ads don't back Labour's education policy, but nor do they aggressively attack National's policy - so what's the point? Maybe the unions realise that in the public mind Labour have lost their traditional advantages in education because of wasteful spending, eroding standards, and indifference to parents and students. And they can't attack a campaign against national standards, fixing NCEA and value for money in tertiary education. Tell a parent that spending on schools has risen 35% and spending on tertiary has risen 60% and they wonder what they got for it. Labour's spending record has turned from an asset to a liability. Nor will the public get excited about a campaign against bulk funding. So the ads are another sign the electoral battle starts with National in front on education.

Students Uncounted

Persistent questioning has revealed the government can't calculate completion rates. The reason the monitoring and compliance is overlapping, contradictory and complex is because the agencies can't do simple things like count students in and students out. This is a disgrace. If I get to be the Minister officials should produce a plan to gather a small amount of reliable data. Monitoring tertiary courses requires good ex-post indicators with clear consequences attached to them. Match this with a tougher quality threshold for new courses and the monitoring job can be done much more cheaply and effectively.

In the meantime the government will announce a "realignment" strategy for polytechs to try and claim back public credibility in tertiary education. The strategy will consist of ingenious ways of recycling money within polytechs, starting after the election. Polytechs have kept quiet because of the promise they won't lose money. But any public move the government makes will confirm to voters that there has been 6 years of mismanagement - and Labour had to be forced to act. The public don't trust Labour on this issue now, whatever they do.

Loyal to the Last

The Secondary Principals Association, the DP/AP Association and the Principals Federation, not to mention a dozen smaller organisations remain steadfastly in fear of the current Minister. None have had the fortitude to even issue an invitation to the Opposition Spokesman on Education to attend, let alone address their conference in election year. So they are sponsoring opportunities for Labour to spout political bile unanswered and unbalanced. Now the standard has been set, I look forward to years of addressing these conferences as Minister, on the condition no Labour politician gets in the door.

The School Trustees Association at least issued an invitation, but not to speak. Regional principals groups are a bit more removed from the bullying and they regularly provide the opportunity for their members to find out about National's point of view.

Bill English

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