Parents forking out fees and donations to their child's school could be driving a million-dollar wedge between Waikato's richest and poorest schools, latest figures show.
A Hamilton high school raised more than $2.5 million in extra money through activity fees, donations and fundraising in one year, and five others topped $1m.
But many schools in poorer neighbourhoods are failing to attract big dollars, restricting the education programmes and extra-curricular activities they can offer.
"The poorer the community, the harder it is for families to contribute to the school and to top up the school's funds," Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said.
"The winning schools win even more and the poorer schools lose."
She has called for an inquiry into how they are funded, adding that the ability of wealthy parents to pay school fees was widening the disparity.
She said the New Zealand Council for Educational Research found that a decile 10 school earned about $1000 per pupil more than a decile 1 school, when including locally-raised funds.
Community funding for Waikato secondary schools ranged from $71,766 to $2.5m in 2011.
Hamilton Boys' High School, which is decile 8 and has more than 2000 students, raised $2,532,659 of extra income in 2011 - more than the 10 lowest-earning secondary schools combined.
Of that total, $1.4m was voluntary fees and donations from parents, $535,751 came via fundraising and $511,795 was from trading sales, such as canteen food, stationery and school uniforms.
The extra money, provided by parents and the community, was almost equal to the school's operational grant provided by the Ministry of Education.
Headmaster Susan Hassall did not return phone calls yesterday.
Five other schools in the region - Cambridge High, Hamilton Girls' High, Hillcrest High, Taupo-nui-a-Tia College and Waikato Diocesan School for Girls - received more than $1m in extra funding.
The bulk of that money came from voluntary fees, with the exception of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, where the highest amount came from donations.
Hillcrest High principal Kelvin Whiting said the school asked for a $200 donation per student per year, but only about 55 per cent of parents paid.
"The percentage of donations being paid is declining unfortunately and I think that's a sign of the difficult economic climate we are facing," he said.
"We invoice parents for sports fees or materials fees. You can put the school donation on the invoice but there's no guarantee it will come in. You're hoping the parents pay the donation but you can't put any pressure on them to pay it."
In comparison, Putaruru College raised $194,006 in 2011, one of the smallest totals in the region.
Principal Mike Ronke said the extra money was "absolutely vital to provide something beyond the basics for our kids".
He said the school fundraised via raffles and student work days and regularly applied for Lotteries grants to buy new equipment.
"The school functions quite happily day-to-day and we can provide the basics, but nowadays we need a bit more than the basics - laptops and all those things aren't cheap." Morrinsville College raked in an extra $715,000, with $63,000 of that coming from donations.
Principal John Inger said the school sent out four letters to parents each year, asking them to pay a donation.
"In a way we're begging, it seems to me.
"We would find it very hard to exist without that money."
He said students would "most certainly suffer" if the school did not raise extra income as government funding allowed the school to deliver only a "basic" curriculum.
- Waikato Times