Budget looks 'unexciting', inadequate for schools

IAIN SCOTT IAIN.SCOTT@MSL.CO.NZ
Last updated 10:22 16/05/2014

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A total of $172.5 million of capital from the Future Investment Fund and $111.5m of operating funding over the next four years is to be invested in new schools, classrooms and other school property improvements. Education Minister Hekia Parata said the new funding was part of the Government's wider plans to modernise schools. Funding from the Budget will help establish up to five new schools, acquire three new sites and expand one existing school. Opponents say a 2 per cent increase in operating grants may not be enough to meet future costs.

An "unexciting" Budget has disappointed the education sector, with a previously announced plan to reward top principals and teachers drawing fresh criticism.

Finance Minister Bill English said in his Budget speech yesterday that education would receive an additional $858 million over the next four years and the remainder of this year.

That included the $359m which Prime Minister John Key said in January would go towards a plan, dubbed Investing in Educational Success, to strengthen the teaching profession and school leadership.

Schools' operational grants would increase 2 per cent, or $85m, while $111m was provided for operating funding for school property development and maintenance.

"The major cat is already out of the bag in terms of the $359m over four years and then $150m a year ongoing, I understand, for the the new roles for best teachers and principals," said Massey University education expert Professor John O'Neill.

There was not much evidence that the Investing in Educational Success plan would achieve its aim to improve education significantly, he said.

"That's 40 per cent of the new spending amount being spent on a hope and a prayer."

It could be argued that the 2 per cent increase in the operations grant was broadly consistent with inflation. However, compliance costs, the number of initiatives schools were expected to take on board, and the likelihood that salary increases might be higher than inflation in coming years raised the question of whether it was enough.

Freyberg High School acting principal Craig Steed described the Budget as unexciting.

"It's one of those situations where any extra investment in education is appreciated, but there were really no surprises in the Budget."

He said with the Investing in Educational Success scheme already announced, the only real increase was in the operational grant.

He was critical of the scheme, particularly as it involved teachers and principals being out of schools for periods.

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"Once again, it's a top-down approach from the ministry and I think some of the schools would benefit from being able to have some of that pool of funding to use as they best see fit," Steed said.

Ross Intermediate School principal Wayne Codyre said while any increase to schools' operating funding was welcome, a 2 per cent increase did not go far enough.

Dannevirke High School principal Dr Dawid de Villiers was upbeat, but said the test would be in how much individual schools received.

"My initial reaction is it is absolutely wonderful that education gets what it deserves in the Budget. I'm always interested to see how it unpacks specifically for rural schools . . . it costs a little bit more to manage a rural school than it does a city school and that's just due to services being a bit dearer for us because people need to travel."

- Manawatu Standard

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