Children 'the biggest losers' in 2017 education budget - sector

The Budget offers $60.5 million for schools' operations grants – an increase of 1.3 per cent after last year's funding ...
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The Budget offers $60.5 million for schools' operations grants – an increase of 1.3 per cent after last year's funding freeze.

A $1.1 billion education budget is "not even a catch up" to inflation and years of funding freezes, sector bodies and unions say.

After an operations funding freeze last year, Thursday's announcement of $60.5 million for schools' operations grants – an increase of 1.3 per cent – plus up to 4 per cent extra for schools with a high number of at-risk students was both welcomed and lamented.

A $386m commitment to early childhood education coupled with $35m for children from benefit-dependent households still represented a $15,000 loss for the average centre.

In tertiary education, there was lukewarm reception to a $20-per-week increase to accommodation benefits for students and $69.3m in tuition subsidies.

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FUNDING 'STRIPPED' FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD AGAIN

Early childhood education will suffer "funding cuts by stealth" for a seventh year running.

Early Childhood Education Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said Government's multi-million dollar commitment promised 31,000 extra places, but did not increase much-needed per-child funding.

"This time last year when the Budget was read, every centre lost $13,000. The announcement today . . . means the average childcare centre loses $15,000."

This made a total loss of $105,000 per centre since 2010, the council's accountants determined.

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Reynolds said Thursday's announcement would cause job losses in small, community-owned centres and higher costs for families.

He praised the $35m pledge to support disadvantaged children, which was expected to affect about 2000 of 4600 centres nationwide.

"Any Budget that gives us something has got to be a good thing, but the bulk of what we needed – the stuff that would really make a difference – has been left off the list."

ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander said funding extra places would not improve quality.

"Good teachers are leaving the sector because of high stress . . . and parents have less certainty that their child's needs will be adequately met."

'A TIMID SPRINKLING OF INITIATIVES' FOR SCHOOLS

The return of operations grants is too little, too late, major education unions say.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Lynda Stuart said news of $60.5m over four years paled in comparison to the estimated $50m annual increase schools needed.

While targeted funding for at-risk children would help, NZEI calculated it amounted to about $2 per child, per year.

"People have been struggling for long enough to make ends meet and ensure they're doing the very best for our kids. A lot of this is just playing catch-up," Stuart said.

"We see children as the biggest losers in today's budget."

Post-Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) president Jack Boyle said the 1.3 per cent increase to operations funding failed to keep pace with inflation – 2.6 per cent last year.

Announced plans to provide teacher aides for another 625 children each year were tenuous, he said.

"There isn't a vehicle to improve access to teacher aides when they are funded through operations budgets that haven't increased sufficiently."

Boyle and Stuart said $465m for school property was "not a budget highlight", but business as usual.

Other proposals were well-received: $1.2m to improve statutory interventions in schools, $7.5 million for developing Maori curriculum resources and $4.2m for Incredible Years, a programme for high-needs and autistic children.

MOST STUDENTS MISS OUT ON BENEFIT BUMP

Three-quarters of the student population will not gain from plans to increase accommodation benefits.

New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) president Jonathan Gee said the $20-a-week bump was welcome, but not a quick fix to students' housing woes.

Student allowance recipients living away from home will be eligible for $60 per week in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and $51 per week in Dunedin.

"It's reasonably targeted which is fair [but] the average rent in Auckland is $250 per week; in Wellington it's $218."

More than 20,000 students had been shut out of student allowances since 2010, when the parental income threshhold for eligibility was frozen, Gee said.

Universities New Zealand (UNZ) chair Professor Stuart McCutcheon acknowledged the $7.5m in additional research funding for university staff and $81.9m for the Endeavour Fund for science research.

However, $69.3m in tuition subsidies was a 1 per cent increase, below the expected Consumer Price Index of 2 per cent, he said.

UNZ executive director Chris Whelan said the underwhelming increase put further pressure on a system already struggling to maintain quality teaching.

"Our universities now receive just 95 per cent of the OECD average per student. This budget fails New Zealand and New Zealanders by contributing to further erosion of a system that is already at breaking point."

 

 - Stuff

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