$50m lolly dangled by Labour

Last updated 05:00 03/07/2014
Opinion poll

Labour's offer to schools of $100 per student to drop voluntary donations:

Realises that 'voluntary donations' mask school underfunding

Is a $50m election bribe

Vote Result

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Parents unable to afford their children's school donations would get a reprieve under a Labour initiative to scrap donations and replace them with an annual government grant.

School donations have long been a contentious issue between parents who cannot afford them and schools who say they need them to make ends meet.

Schools cannot enforce the payments and, over the years, have resorted to withholding yearbooks or school ball privileges from students whose parents have not paid.

Labour leader David Cunliffe and education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the policy, which the party estimated would cost $50 million a year, aimed to stop children being "discriminated against and ostracised because of their parents' financial situation".

"Some schools have adopted dubious tactics to get these so-called voluntary donations, including repeatedly sending children home with letters and, in one case, giving children 'Donation paid' tags to attach to their bags," Cunliffe said at the launch of the policy at Fergusson Intermediate in Trentham yesterday.

Many low-decile schools - such as Cannons Creek Primary School, which scrapped donations because of their unaffordability - would gain tens of thousands of dollars under the initiative, which proposes that schools be given $100 a student each year if they stop asking parents for donations.

Schools that opted in could not take up the grant and still collect donations. "It's a case of one or the other," Cunliffe said.

At the decile-1 Cannons Creek school, with a roll of 180, the policy would bring a funding boost of $18,000. Principal Ruth O'Neill said resources such as iPads and having extra cash for more teacher aide time would be a big help.

Fundraising did not really work in her community because there was rarely any money left over for parents to be spending on raffles, cake stalls or gala days.

The school's only expectation of parents was that they buy their children's books at the start of the year, which cost about $15.

Rata Street School, a decile 1 primary in Lower Hutt, asks for $35 a student and $50 a family in donations each year, and about one-third of parents paid it, principal Dave Appleyard said.

Traditionally, any extra funds were spent on digital technology. "Years ago, technology would have been a nice-to-have, but now it's essential for modern learning."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the curriculum was fully funded by the Government, and donations made up "a very small part" of what schools needed.

"They're not compulsory and they're for extra things that parents have decided they want in that school."

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Those comments did not wash with Wellington Girls' College principal Julia Davidson who said she relied on donations to stay afloat.

"Without donations and international students, the school would be bankrupt."

Donations were broken up into three areas at the college, totalling $645 a year.

About 60 per cent of parents paid some of the donations. Davidson said operational funding was about $40,000 a year for IT expenses, but realistically the college spent about $750,000.

"We could not do all that stuff, but then we wouldn't be preparing kids for the future they're going into."

- The Dominion Post


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