“The mixed messages and confusion by both Labour when they were in government and now National has confused parents and resulted in some parents paying the fees and others refusing. In the end, the whole school community is penalised by the uncertainty and the subsequent shortfall,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“Despite the Education Act saying that state school education is free, this is completely removed from the truth. Families are forking out large amounts to help schools meet their budgets and provide core services. This comes on top of school stationery demands, uniform costs, course fees, travel – no wonder families are under so much financial pressure at the moment.”
“Although labeled as ‘voluntary’, many parents think that school fees are compulsory and need to be paid to keep the school functioning effectively – especially higher decile schools,” says Mr McCoskrie.
“The government needs to clarify the issue rather than stay silent – either education is free or it’s not.”
In 2008, the PPTA said that 36 percent of school funding came from sources outside of Government operations grants and these were generally from local sources such as parents.
According to information gained under the Official Information Act last year, parents have paid over $1b in school donations over the past four years to prop up state school budgets – and low income families in low decile schools are also paying significant amounts.
“We don’t see any evidence that school fees are being used to fund lavish education facilities, luxurious swimming pools, or special perks for teachers or students. Some schools would greatly struggle without these voluntary donations. And these amounts don’t include the huge amount of fundraising and sweat labour performed by parents to help fund schools,” says Mr McCoskrie.
There has been concern parents are feeling pressured or even bullied into paying school fees, even though they are supposed to be “donations”, and in some cases, cash-strapped schools have flouted Education Ministry advice and turned to debt collectors to chase “voluntary” fees from parents.
Figures also showed that parents in low socio-economic areas are also paying significant amounts. An analysis of the figures by Family First show that parents of children in decile 1 schools in the Manukau area have contributed $2.5m in fees over the past six years. Parents of secondary school in South Auckland have contributed almost $4.5m over the past six years.
“It is time for the government to front up to the shortfalls that so many schools are facing, and determine once and for all where the funding shortfall is going to be sourced from – parents or state.”