OPINION: At first glance Labour's new policy on school fees is an attractive one.
The plan is for schools to receive an extra $100 per pupil each year in exchange for their not asking parents for voluntary donations. The policy is costed by Labour at $50 million.
The policy does not cover activity fees. Schools would still be able to ask for those, and such requests can be equally pesky to parents. There is also large scope for taking the extra cash and then just redefining things as activities so the soliciting practise can go on unabated. Schools are always going to want more money than they've got.
Nevertheless, it will provide relief for parents irritated by begging letters. And some schools will end up with more cash, provided by both parents and non-parents through their taxes.
The benefits, however, are a mixed bag. Some schools will be significantly better off. Others won't. Some schools will turn down the $100 because they can get more from parents. A large chunk of the benefit will go to those parents who used to pay up, but will no longer be asked. This is nice for them, but hardly a great gain for education.
Labour leader David Cunliffe says some schools had used "dubious tactics" to tap parents for cash, including repeatedly sending children home with letters and, in one case giving children "donation paid" tags to attach to their bags.
"Labour does not believe children should be discriminated against and ostracised because of their parents' financial situation."
The Times agrees wholeheartedly. Schools should not be doing this.
But instead of stopping this behaviour, Labour's plan is to give in to it. It is like when a child has a tantrum at the supermarket, demanding lollies, and the parent ends the tantrum by buying whatever the child wants.
Schools, just like businesses, hospitals, households and newspaper publishers, have to live within their means.
The policy may be a good one in political terms. It scratches an itch. But is this really the best use of $50 million?
- The Southland Times
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