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Free Press, 20 May 2019

A slowly unfolding disaster

Our education system is a slowly unfolding disaster. Too many kids leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. In 2014, the Tertiary Education Commission found about half of Year 11 students achieved the international reading and numeracy benchmarks. For a number of these students, failure in school will lead to a life of unemployment, welfare or crime. This is not just an economic issue, but a moral one, too. We have a responsibility to ensure kids are equipped with the skills they need to navigate a rapidly-changing world.

How we compare internationally

New Zealand has gone from top performer to above average performer since the OECD began administering the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2000. In the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, student scores have been below average and are declining further.

Labour doubles down on a failed bureaucracy…

The Education Minister’s big idea for education is to effectively fire 12,500 volunteers on Boards of Trustees who want to be involved in the running of their local school and to reorganise the Ministry of Education bureaucracy into smaller offices called ‘Education Hubs’. But the education bureaucrats have had their chance and they have failed. As Ronald Reagan said in 1981, government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem. In our case, one-size-fits-all, government-delivered education is the problem.

…but freedom works

ACT’s charter schools gave parents choice and allowed education providers the flexibility and autonomy to respond to the diverse needs of students. Charter schools were delivering strong results before they were scrapped by Labour. Over the weekend, we saw even more evidence that freedom works. A new US study shows that effective charter schools are able to replicate their original success when they’re allowed to set up new campuses. Here in New Zealand, we need to allow good ideas and education models to grow and bad ones to perish.

A sneak peek

The future of education in New Zealand will be front and centre at ACT’s conference and relaunch next month. Our education policy will offer a stark contrast with other political parties. We will empower parents to make good choices about their child’s education. We will offer educators the autonomy to provide what families and children really need – not what politicians and bureaucrats believe they need. Tickets for the conference are selling fast. You can secure your place here.

An environmental own goal

The Government’s “Zero Carbon Bill” will be debated for the first time in Parliament tomorrow. Jacinda Ardern says the law is about showing global leadership. As with oil and gas, gun laws, and regulating social media, the Prime Minister is more worried about a global audience than good policy that is in the best interests of New Zealand. If Ardern believes Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and others will follow her lead on climate change, she is deeply naïve.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

If New Zealand makes significantly deeper emissions cuts than our trading partners, we will impoverish ourselves and while pushing economic activity to other countries with lower environmental standards. Economists at NZIER say we could lose almost a quarter of what would have been our 2050 incomes and that those losses will be disproportionately felt by the poor. Other experts have called the net zero emissions by 2050 target a ‘feel good’ project which will cost the economy $200 billion and which is unlikely to have any impact on the behaviour of other countries.

Helping the planet?

The Government has been warned by its own officials that the Zero Carbon Bill could actually increase global emissions because of ‘carbon leakage’, the idea economic activity will move overseas as a result of government policy. The risk of shooting ourselves in the foot is real. If we set more aggressive targets than other countries, it will not only harm the economy but also force activity to less efficient jurisdictions, increasing global emissions. I asked the Climate Change Minister in Parliament last year what impact his legislation will have on global temperatures. He did not know. The UK Climate Change Act – on which our law is based – has seen that country reduce its emissions no faster than New Zealand since 2008.

ACT’s response

A no-nonsense approach to climate change would be to tie our emissions price to the prices paid in our top five trading partners. That would be administratively simple, politically durable, and effective, and would show that New Zealand is doing its bit.

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