High cost to 'free' education

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:56 27/01/2014
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Palmerston North parents may be feeling the pinch when their children head back to school this week.

New Zealand's "free" education is costing families tens of thousands of dollars, according to the latest findings from a Kiwi education funding group.

The ASG Education Programs New Zealand survey shows parents face beefy back-to-school costs for the first term, with uniforms, stationery, sports fees and school donations adding up to an average of $1970 a year for primary school pupils and $3159 for secondary school students.

ASG chief executive John Velegrinis said a free education was something Kiwis trusted to be taken care of by the government, but that was not the case. The cost had been creeping up at 1 times the rate of inflation in the past 10 years.

And parents who have a baby born this year look set to pay nearly $35,000 for their son or daughter's estimated 13-year state education, he said.

That's eight years at primary school pegged at about $16,000, with secondary school costs adding up to about $18,000.

Manawatu Home Budgeting Service is expecting an influx of inquiries about education costs this week as schools open their doors again.

Manager Bernie Walker said the service was accustomed to dealing with families struggling with the back-to-school-budget.

"People have a tendency to leave things right to the last minute and there may be an upsurge in those type of inquiries when reality hits that school is about to start."

More families were finding it difficult to set aside provisions for school costs and even those who were well prepared found it tough, he said.

His advice for families is to start setting aside a little money as soon as possible and to look at options like buying school uniforms second hand and talking to schools or community groups, such as churches, about payment plans and relief funds.

New Zealand Educational Institute Manawatu branch president Liam Rutherford said an increasing number of families were struggling to make ends meet and the flow-on effect was not always as noticeable as a child missing parts of their uniform or unpaid donation fees.

"Sometimes the parents aren't forthcoming with that information because of the stigma and the embarrassment that comes with those things, particularly with kids not turning up with lunches.

"But this isn't just a low-decile problem. Even at middle- and high-decile schools, while the bulk of these kids tend to come with less of these poverty-related issues, decile 10 schools still have children and families struggling to meet costs."

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Education Minister Hekia Parata has said New Zealand schools are self-governing and have the ability to shape cost-related decisions, including if children should wear uniforms and how boards of trustees, which are made up of parents, deal with donations.

Mr Rutherford said it was "half and half" on who the responsibility fell on, but the Ministry of Education could work closer with the teaching profession and school communities by having more consultation on issues like school costs.

The figures were drawn from responses from 1000 Kiwi families surveyed by ASG, measuring school fees, transport, uniforms and computer costs, as well as the price of excursions and sporting trips.

DOING THE SUMS

Primary school costs breakdown:

Fees $263

Extra-curricular activities $691

Clothing $174

Necessities $133

Travel $351

Computers $358

TOTAL $1970

Secondary school costs breakdown:

Fees $509

Extra-curricular activities $1086

Clothing $333 Necessities $261

Travel $452

Computers $518

TOTAL $3159

Source: ASG Education Programs New Zealand

- Manawatu Standard

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