Tolley to meet school voucher pioneer

22:16, Aug 31 2009

Education Minister Anne Tolley is meeting a controversial American schools leader who pioneered a scheme heralded by former US president George W. Bush.

Tolley yesterday departed for a nine-day North American tour.

While in the United States, Tolley said she would meet Michelle Rhee, the Washington DC Schools Chancellor.

Rhee established an American-first "voucher programme" called the "Opportunity Scholarship" in Washington DC in 2004.

A similar scheme already under way in New Zealand has been criticised for diverting money out of the public system and sending a message that private schools are better.

The US scheme gave about 1900 pupils from low-income families up to $7500 to attend private schools of their choice, but the Obama Administration has limited future funding of Rhee's voucher scheme.

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Many Democrats and American teachers' unions claimed the voucher programme sucked taxpayer money from public schools, making it harder for them to serve any children well.

Earlier this month, The Press revealed poor Kiwi families would be income-tested for the chance of "an enhanced educational opportunity" at private schools.

Associate Education Minister Heather Roy said 250 low-income children would be offered independent school scholarships.

Roy said it was Act Party policy to have vouchers available to every pupil in New Zealand.

Rhee has also created controversy by sacking school principals including one she had hired seven weeks before.

Tolley similarly sacked a series of poorly-performed school boards in her first months as minister.

Critics say Rhee has closed schools without holding public hearings. Tolley is consulting on a plan to close Christchurch's Aorangi School. A decision is expected within two weeks.

Earlier this year, Rhee threatened a new teacher evaluation system that would result in widespread dismissals of teachers who failed to meet minimum standards.

Tolley has praised work by Auckland University academic John Hattie that suggested teacher pay should be more closely linked to performance.

The Press