PPTA outs charter school hopefuls

A list of organisations that have expressed interest in running charter schools has been outed, revealing a high proportion of religious groups, including a Manawatu church arguing it has the right to teach creationism using taxpayer money because state schools teach evolution.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) has defended its decision to print the list in this month's edition of its members' magazine, which names 21 organisations that registered interest - almost half of them religious groups - with president Angela Roberts arguing that the process had been shrouded in secrecy.

Attempts to identify which organisations had registered interest were previously stonewalled.

The Standard's Official Information Act request for a list of Manawatu organisations that had expressed interest was declined. The Ministry of Education reasoned that the ability to carry out negotiations without prejudice overrode public interest.

However, the PPTA yesterday named organisations including The Sabbath Rest Adventist Church. The church had been interested in the options presented by partnership schools but had decided not to make an application this year while charter schools legislation remained before Parliament, trustee Jill Friar said.

Asked if she thought taxpayer money should be allocated to schools teaching creationism, Mrs Friar responded it was tantamount to funding secular schools to teach evolution.

"Look at the state school system - they teach evolution as if it's a fact and it's not a fact. Even scientists say it's a theory, so what's the difference at the end of the day? Why should we teach evolution as if it were a fact when there is a theory that is an alternative?" Mrs Friar said.

"It's education and caring for children that is important - to me that's what the argument should be all about."

PPTA president Angela Roberts said taxpayer cash should not go to schools teaching creationism.

"They have the right to teach that in their school, of course, but they have no right to do that with money for the public education system."

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said it was an example of why critics feared the charter school model.

"Those are their beliefs - but the state should not be paying for it. Those parents and kids can choose to believe and to receive a religious education. But not to the exclusion of other sciences, and I think in this case that is really inappropriate," Mr Hipkins said.

The Makahika Outdoor Pursuits Centre (MOPC) in Levin, which offers alternative education for young male offenders, also registered interest. The organisation's work is currently sub-contracted by the Ministry of Justice. Co-director Sally Duxfield said she and her husband paid up to $60,000 a year out of their own pockets to finance the programme.

MOPC was considering becoming a charter school because the funding style could allow them to extend to a full-year residential programme, Mrs Duxfield said.

The centre would use the New Zealand curriculum and employ registered teachers.

"The mainstream system doesn't work for these boys. Some of these boys haven't sat at a school desk since they were 10 or 12 because they've beaten people or stabbed people . . . they come here because they are unable to be educated safely [elsewhere]."

MINISTER RESPONDS

The latest Budget has allocated a $19 million chunk for contingency funding for charter schools.

The concept has attracted criticism because private entities would be able to use taxpayer cash to set up specialist schools that do not have to employ qualified teachers or teach the New Zealand curriculum.

The Education Amendment Bill, which would introduce the model, passed its second reading in Parliament last week.

If it passes a third reading it will come into force next year.

A spokeswoman for Associate Education Minister John Banks said that of the 35 applications received to open partnership schools, 11 appeared to have religious affiliations.

All charter schools would be required to teach a broad-based curriculum, including science, she said.

Stuff