4.1 Navigating change in education: funding

4.1.1 Bulk funding win

The demise of bulk funding in November 2016 was a big win for teachers, learners and school communities. The proposed “global budget” was one of the initiatives of the Government’s funding review. The Cabinet rejected the idea after criticism from many quarters, not least of which was the combined voice of NZEI Te Riu Roa and the PPTA.

Thousands of teachers and school support staff united in unprecedented numbers at more than 50 combined union meetings around the country in September and overwhelmingly voted against bulk funding.

The so-called global budget was seen as a return to the bulk funding of the 1990s and was a cost cutting measure which would lead to fewer teachers, larger class sizes and narrower subject choices for students.

“Children are not commodities that can be cashed up.”

4.1.2 Roadshow and Heartland tours

“There is just not enough money. I know what happened last time under bulk funding – class sizes increased and there were more teachers on fixed-term contracts.”

At the launch in Wellington, Karori West School principal Janice Shramka said schools needed more money not bulk funding.

Keeping the funding message alive, the Roadshow and Heartland tours followed.

The roadshow kicked off in early October with the Better Funding Better Learning message on the side of a bus. NZEI Te Riu Roa and PPTA staff and members travelled around the country with the “better funding” message.

Thousands of parents concerned about proposed changes to how education is funded, signed postcards to the Minister of Education.

After the simultaneous launch in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, Better Funding buses visited schools at drop-off time and parents talked to teachers about the proposed changes, including the global budget, and why children’s education needs more investment.

The Roadshow was followed by the Heartland tour—a campervan with the same messaging travelling to more isolated and rural parts of the country.

Both tours attracted a lot of media coverage. It was good to see particularly the support from local community newspapers in more remote parts of the country. There were daily postings on social media that were shared widely across Facebook featuring the schools visited and members, parents and children engaging with the campaign.

4.1.3 Early childhood

The Every Child is Worth It campaign, to end the freeze in Early Childhood Education funding, was launched in early November. It was a sustained new push to restore funding to ECE in order to improve quality, rather than just increase participation in Early Childhood Education.

The funding freeze was threatening the quality of ECE. Services said the freeze was forcing increases to parent fees, cuts to teacher pay, deteriorating child to teacher ratios, and increased reliance on unqualified staff.

An NZEI Te Riu Roa survey of 264 early childhood centres around the country found that 87% had experienced shortfalls since the Government first froze per-child funding six years ago, and 70% had increased fees—by an average of 29%—as a result.

Since 2010, increases in government funding for ECE have been for increased participation only, meaning services faced real-term cuts to their core per-child funding.

Research conducted by Infometrics on behalf of the NZEI Te Riu Roa, showed how the Government has shaved $260 million from ECE in 2016 alone – the equivalent of $58,000 a year in funding from every ECE centre in the country.

At around the same time, Education Review Office data showed 220 Early Childhood Education services were red flagged as “requiring further development” or “not well placed” in October. A high proportion were home-based care.

In March, hundreds of heartfelt messages from children all over New Zealand were delivered to Parliament and MPs were asked to sign the Have a Heart pledge to restore quality and funding to Early Childhood Education.

In the 2017 Budget, the Government announced that ECE services would receive $35.5 million targeted toward supporting children most at risk of under achievement – about $50 a year per child. Meanwhile, per child, per hour funding subsidies were frozen at the same level they were set at in 2008.

4.1.4 Special education

A Cabinet paper in November revealed the Ministry of Education planned to implement a new service model that would include a single point of access for parents, whānau, schools and local communities with local learning support teams and a lead practitioner.

While we welcomed a single service point, the concern was again raised around funding.

The number of children needing learning support was growing, and principals were reporting that the significant needs of children in their schools were not being met.

In April, NZEI Te Riu Roa took part in the Education For All (EFA) rally at Parliament, in which a petition was presented calling on the Government to meet its obligations to uphold the human rights of disabled children and others to have their specific learning needs met so they can access a full education.

The Budget in May 2017 announced additional ORS funding would cover an extra 30-60 children (estimates put the actual need at an additional 15,337 children), an additional 11 special education satellite units and $63.3 million of operating funding over the next four years would be provided to support students with additional learning needs, including expanding specialist behavioural services.

What children with disabilities need more than anything else is solidarity—and who better to show it to them than a union?

Parent Giovanni Tiso, after the rally.

4.1.5 School donations

Funding of schooling was being propped up by whānau donations, an NZEI Te Riu Roa/PPTA survey of principals found. Many schools said they were seeking ever larger donations from families to cover the shortfall in funding, including for teacher aide salaries. They also expressed reluctance to do this as they knew many families were already struggling with every day costs.

Figures published early 2017 showed parental donations continued to rise over the past three years but leapt by $11.8 million in 2015.

In May, NZEI Te Riu Roa welcomed the Auditor-General’s finding that public schools may not request payments or donations in connection with applications for out-of-zone applications.

“Where schools ask for donations, payment is entirely voluntary. Families have the choice to pay donations in full, in part, or not at all”

Auditor-General’s report, Inquiry into state schools requesting payments in connection with out-of-zone places

4.1.6 Pay equity

In April, 55,000 aged care workers won huge 20 to 40 percent pay increases as a result of their pay equity case. This provided the inspiration, and a powerful precedent, for the underpaid women in education to follow.

NZEI Te Riu Roa is leading the charge for fair pay for women, with education support workers now in pay equity negotiations with the Ministry, and work underway on claims for teacher aides, other support staff, and those in Early Childhood Education.

“More than 90 percent of the support staff working in schools and Early Childhood Education are women, doing some of the most important work in New Zealand for some of the lowest rates of pay.”

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Louise Green, November 2016

“The Government can today make pay equity a reality for thousands of women who help Kiwi children learn, by paying them the same as the mostly men who work in New Zealand's prisons.”

4.1.7 Violence in schools

NZEI Te Riu Roa has been gathering evidence about student violence after the issue was raised in the media and with the union.

In April 2017, principals said that greater funding was needed to resource schools and support services so violent and troubled children could learn and reach their potential. It was seen as yet another underfunding issue in the sector, as schools had to reduce the hours of teacher aides and other support staff to balance their budgets.

We surveyed principals, who responded with anecdotes of the level and increase of violence they were seeing in their schools.

Some Northland principals said the Government’s inadequate school funding and a staffing cap on specialist Ministry of Education staff had forced them to consider suspending disruptive students, when they could not get the necessary support or services.

The staffing cap had meant long waiting lists for children to see learning support field staff, such as psychologists, speech therapists, behavioural therapists and early intervention specialists.

“We want to de-escalate volatile situations in which a child may be resorting to violence. What are police supposed to do? They don’t want to come in with tasers and handcuffs to violently restrain an eight-year-old.”

Lynda Stuart, NZEI Te Riu Roa president

4.1.8 Billion-dollar boost needed, and the Budget

NZEI Te Riu Roa commissioned and released a report by Infometrics two days before the Budget was released in May.

The report, which costed NZEI Te Riu Roa’s A Better Plan, said a billion-dollar boost was needed to preserve public education and ensure every child has the support they need to learn.

The billion dollars included a 4% increase in the operations grant, and the following measures:

  • $56 million to restore funding for 100% qualified and certificated ECE teachers
  • $210 million to restore ECE funding rates to 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation
  • $73 million for smaller class sizes for years 4-8 (where classes are currently the largest) so that teacher:student ratios fall from 1:29 to 1:25
  • $425 million so that more children with special needs can access support, which would extend the number of students supported through the ongoing resource scheme (ORS) fund
  • $282 million to improve ratios for babies and toddlers under two from one teacher to five children to one teacher to three.

Government spending per primary school student remains below the OECD average.

“This isn't just about a funding catch-up—which is desperately needed—this is about putting children first and funding schools and ECE services to meet every child's needs.”

Lynda Stuart, NZEI Te Riu Roa president

4.1.9 Budget day

The Budget was a huge disappointment to the education sector. Early childhood suffered its eighth straight year of a funding freeze and the increase to the school operations grant did not cover inflation.

Most funding increases only covered roll growth.

Soon after the Budget, researchers at Victoria University of Wellington and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) released a more in-depth analysis of spending based on population changes and inflation.

Education spending was projected to fall by 1.6% in the 2017 Budget year, with spending falling relative to population and inflation by 7.9% by 2021.

In a pre-Budget announcement, NZEI Te Riu Roa welcomed the announcement of more teachers in hard-to-staff areas, but the true reason why some areas were hard to staff needed to be addressed—including lack of affordable housing and efficient transport.