Can you call this 'free' education?
A "free" education in New Zealand is costing families tens of thousands of dollars, a survey has found.
Its findings were released today as parents deal with back-to-school costs, including uniforms, workbooks, sports fees and school donations.
For a child starting primary school this year, a state education is expected to cost $34,687, if they stay at school until year 13.
Parents who choose a private education for their child could fork out more than $260,000.
The cost is equivalent to buying a basic three-bedroom house in Hamilton and more than seven times that of the public system.
A state-integrated education is expected to cost $91,878 over 13 years.
ASG Education Programs New Zealand surveyed 1000 Kiwi families and measured school fees, transport, uniforms, computers, school excursions and sporting trips.
It found the cost of education in New Zealand had risen at 1 times the rate of inflation over the last 10 years.
However, the cost of a state education in Australia was almost twice as much as in New Zealand.
Education commentator Stuart Middleton, of the Manukau Institute of Technology, said parents were expected to pay for more "frills" for their children.
"You'd better hope what they're buying is a high level of success," he said.
"By and large I see the cost of education creeping up and I don't think it has to."
He said more schools introducing uniforms and the expectation to have the latest technologies, such as laptops and tablets, were driving up the cost of school.
Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the cost of a state education would vary greatly as there was a significant difference in the amount schools could raise from donations.
She said some state schools felt "guilty" about asking for a small donation "because they know parents can't pay it".
The Times has found that, based on current fees at two of the region's most expensive schools, parents could spend in excess of $320,000 over 13 years.
At Southwell School, an independent primary and intermediate in Hamilton, parents will pay $106,692 for their child's tuition fees from year one to eight, based on current rates.
Add the seven-day boarding fees to that and the total jumps to $167,500 over eight years.
St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton will cost parents up to $106,305 in fees from year nine to 13, or $156,750 for boarders.
Based on these figures, a full private education in Hamilton, from year one to 13, could cost parents more than $320,000 - more than the current Waikato median house price of $303,400.
St Paul's Collegiate headmaster Grant Lander said the main advantage of an independent education was smaller classes.
The average year nine class at St Paul's has 20 students and years 11 to 13 have just 15, Mr Lander said.
"Our belief, I suppose, is that gives the students more individual attention."
He said independent schools weren't only for the rich and a majority of students came from middle-income families. "They've made a conscious decision that education is one of their highest priorities as parents. In doing that they've accepted that some other things will have to be sacrificed."
Hillcrest High School principal Kelvin Whiting said New Zealand's state education was world-renowned.
He said public schools provided a well-rounded environment to prepare students for further study and the workforce.
"We ask for a donation, there are fees in terms of materials and extra-curricular activities, but we try and keep our costs down to a minimum because we know that we have got a cross-section of the community in our schools."
BACK TO SCHOOL COSTS BURDEN
For many Kiwi families the cost of going back to school is one of the biggest financial burdens of the year.
A survey of 450 families by The Warehouse Group found 51 per cent said going back to school was the big or biggest cost.
Families reported spending on average $372.67 per child to equip them for school.
Family Budgeting Services chief executive officer Raewyn Fox said in recent years she had noticed an increase in clients, most were families with children.
She was used to dealing with families struggling with the back-to-school-budget at this time of year, and advised parents to plan ahead.
"In New Zealand school goes back within a month of Christmas, which tends to compound the problem," she said.
"We really encourage to think of school as well when they're thinking about the costs around Christmas."
School uniforms were one of the most expensive items for parents to get hold of, and Ms Fox recommended hunting in second-hand shops or asking around the community. Parents should talk to schools to see if there were relief funds or payment plans available.
The issue of voluntary donations was a tricky one, she said.
"Parents sometimes feel children are disadvantaged or left out of trips and things if they don't pay.
"If it's a choice between paying a voluntary donation and keeping a roof over your head or feeding the kids . . . you have to look at the consequences," Ms Fox said.