Deeper teacher funding cuts ditched

BACKED DOWN: Hekia Parata.
BACKED DOWN: Hekia Parata.

The Government planned even deeper cuts to school teacher funding than proposals eventually announced - and then thrown out after a nationwide revolt.

Official papers drawn up over a number of months ahead of the May Budget have today been released.

The papers for the education budget reveal class size funding ratio changes went even further than what was announced.

Education Minister Hekia Parata originally urged changes that would seen 1300 fewer teachers hired over the next four years than would have happened under the existing funding formula.

That plan to curb growth in teacher numbers would have seen a "a minimal net reduction" in staffing of about 260 after four years.

The Government eventually decided on a less aggressive plan to cap teacher numbers, with almost the same number proposed to be employed in 2016 as now.

That plan to save $174m over four years was agreed and written in to the Budget but Parata was forced in to an embarrassing backdown earlier this month, which cancelled the plan and returned to the status quo.

However Parata's original plan was to cut $217m.

That plan included moving the class size funding ratio for new entrants (Year 1) from 1:15 up to 1:18. An identical change was agreed in 2009 but aborted at the last minute before the Budget. The documents released today reveal the same thing happened this year.

Parata had also asked for the ratio for years 2 to 10 to change to 1:26.5 and years 11 to 13 to 1:17.6. But those had to change after the year one ratio change was abandoned, with the final plan settled at 1:27.5 for years 2 to 10 and 1:17.3 for years 11 to 13.

Outrage over the announced changes centred on the impact on intermediate (year 7 and 8) schools and schools with technology centres. Parata's Cabinet paper on her original plan noted changes to technology funding, which was to be folded in to the general funding.

"While this policy change will provide schools with their full staffing entitlement and make technology centres more accountable, it will have an adverse impact on small schools and ultimately schools with technology centres," Parata's paper stated.

It also said the impact of the proposed staffing changes would not be evenly distributed across New Zealand.

"Those regions experiencing the greatest population growth (for example Auckland) will be less adversely affected and those regions with forecast population decline would be more adversely affected (for example Marlborough)," Parata's paper said.

A week after Parata's paper was brought to Cabinet, it appears ministers asked for a less aggressive proposal, with advice provided on a plan to keep teacher numbers at the same level over the following four years.

Education Ministry officials said savings would be reduced by $43m, which "would be very difficult to accommodate within the Budget 2012 package for Vote Education".

"All of these options are unattractive. In addition, the impact on the sector of the net zero option is little different to the impact of the option proposed in the Cabinet paper - with significant headline reductions in teacher numbers in primary and secondary schools. Securing the larger saving remains the best (least bad) course of action," the official paper said.

The stress on the education budget from the watered down proposals, however, got even worse when Parata announced the complete backdown earlier this month, which has created a $114m hole in the budget.

Parata was still working on how to plug the gap, with some of it likely to be moved in to the new spending allowance of next year's Budget.