Wanganui Collegiate should go it alone

20:52, Aug 31 2009

Last week Wanganui Collegiate approached the government to explore the possibility of integrating into the public education system. Like some other private schools it has been struggling in recent years with lower student enrolments and rising operating costs.

With the economy failing the private sector once more has its hand out for the state to bail it out. It is following a well worn path as hundreds of schools have integrated since the third Labour government introduced this as an option back in the 1970s.

Initially Catholic schools led the way as they faced economic collapse. Labour obliged and legislation allowing for integration was passed. All governments since have supported the regular integration of private schools.

A private school which integrates with the public school system has all its teacher salaries and day to day operating expenses paid by the government but it retains ownership of the school land and buildings and retains its “special character”. In theory the school trades its right to charge private school fees and its right to pick and choose students for government payment of everything except the upkeep of school buildings and new building developments.

In practice however many private schools have maintained their exclusivity by maintaining exorbitant building fees so that unlike state schools they are not open to enrolment by anyone but those able to pay. They essentially remain private schools but with full government funding for day-to-day operations.

Last week Wanganui Collegiate approached the government to explore the possibility of integrating into the public education system. Like some other private schools it has been struggling in recent years with lower student enrolments and rising operating costs.

With the economy failing the private sector once more has its hand out for the state to bail it out. It is following a well worn path as hundreds of schools have integrated since the third Labour government introduced this as an option back in the 1970s.

Initially Catholic schools led the way as they faced economic collapse. Labour obliged and legislation allowing for integration was passed. All governments since have supported the regular integration of private schools.

A private school which integrates with the public school system has all its teacher salaries and day to day operating expenses paid by the government but it retains ownership of the school land and buildings and retains its “special character”. In theory the school trades its right to charge private school fees and its right to pick and choose students for government payment of everything except the upkeep of school buildings and new building developments.

In practice however many private schools have maintained their exclusivity by maintaining exorbitant building fees so that unlike state schools they are not open to enrolment by anyone but those able to pay. They essentially remain private schools but with full government funding for day-to-day operations.

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In short integration has become a scam. In the case of Catholic schools the building fees have been kept lower by sweetheart deals with the government whereby the state effectively pays for all new building development through suspended loans and the like. Former education minister Trevor Mallard tried regularising this a few years back by proposing to bring integrated schools more formally into the public school system. Many Catholics were so outraged that Mallard backed off quickly.

But why should the state fund the day-to-day operations of private or integrated schools which pick and choose between students and continue to charge large fees to keep the riff-raff out?

The government should reject Wanganui Collegiate’s application to integrate unless the school can promise zero fees to parents and assure us they will accept all applications to enrol on the same basis as any public school.

Taxpayers already spend $40 million each year subsidising private schools and John Key has promised to raise this to $70 million. Kings College, where Key is a parent, will benefit by well over an extra million dollars on top of the almost two million it receives this year.

Private schools are more about social or religious cleansing than educational standards. The state should leave them to do their own thing but without public money.