Ombudsman tells Banks to lift secrecy on charter schools

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2013

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Associate Education Minister John Banks wrongfully withheld information about how proposed charter schools would be funded, the Ombudsman has found.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association's request for information about resourcing, capital and operating funding for partnership schools through the Official Information Act in February last year was denied. Ombudsman David McGee has now recommended that Mr Banks, who has led the introduction of charter schools, disclose that information.

"Ministers cannot be held fully accountable for the proposals they are putting forward, unless the relevant information is in the hands of the public.

"Similarly, the public cannot adequately, let alone effectively, participate in the ‘making and administration of laws and policies' if they are not apprised of key elements of the Government's proposals."

The public was "entitled to know how the Government intends that a new service - in this case a type of school - is to be funded".

However, a spokeswoman for Mr Banks said when the request was made, the charter schools working group had not been formed and no funding decisions had been made.

"Since then funding decisions have been considered and finalised, and late last month Cabinet signed off on the Partnership School resourcing model," she said.

Education Minister Hekia Parata would make the Cabinet paper public in "due course" and the Office of the Ombudsman had been told of this.

The schools, proposed under the Education Amendment Bill, have been a controversial topic, attracting strong opposition during submissions to Parliament last month.

PPTA general secretary Kevin Bunker was pleased with the Ombudsman's findings, and said Mr Banks' withholding of information reinforced the idea that the proposal was "shrouded in secrecy".

He worried that funding charter schools would disadvantage neighbouring and existing state schools, and that taxpayers would be funding private enterprises.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there were all sorts of problems with funding in the charter school proposal, and a refusal to disclose information emphasised the Government's secrecy.

Charter schools would get money for setup costs and property funding that their private-sector backers would be able to keep if a school folded.

Buildings would no longer belong to communities, he said.

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