19 Feb 2024

What parents are actually required to pay schools

1:05 pm on 19 February 2024
Pen sketch of father packing a child's backpack with a large dollar symbol

Which payments are and aren't legally required by schools? Photo: RNZ

Education at state schools in New Zealand is free for anyone who is not an international student from the age of five through to 1 January after their 19th birthday.

Yet most parents will be familiar with requests for payments from their child's school, which can cover a bewildering array of items.

Official looking payment requests with invoice numbers, columns for goods and services tax (GST), due dates and discounts if paid by a certain date are commonplace.

What's the deal? Do you have to pay for everything on the list?

The basics

This is a complicated area full of exceptions and caveats. But there are a few general rules to start from.

Most (but not all) schools are eligible for a government scheme which gives them $154.12 per student, as long as they don't ask parents for donations. If a school has opted in to this scheme, it should not be asking parents for donations for anything other than school camps.

Schools ineligible or who haven't opted in to the scheme are free to ask for donations. If you're not sure if a school is in or out of the scheme, have a look in the table below, which has been created from official records.

If a donation isn't paid, a student can't be excluded from taking part in curriculum activities.

Donation requests

Most schools that are allowed to ask for donations specify an amount which they would like parents to donate. Parents can choose to pay the full amount, part of the amount, or not pay at all.

Because it's voluntary, GST shouldn't be added to donation requests and parents can claim a tax credit of 33.33 cents for every dollar donated.

Schools are allowed to ask parents for a smaller donation if it's paid by a certain date, similar to prompt payment discounts on utility bills, but they must make it clear that the money requested is a donation.

Schools are not allowed to withhold reports or certificates if the donation is not paid. They also can't stop students from attending events, such as a school ball or receiving a school magazine. A student could still could be required to pay for their ball ticket, or magazine, however.

Is it a donation or not?

As a rule of thumb, if it's a voluntary donation, then GST can't be applied to it.

Request for payment from school

Photo: RNZ

In the 'invoice' one school issued above, there was no GST against the donation "bill". That's not a mistake - it's an indication that this is a voluntary payment, even if there is a "due date".

Curriculum extras

The next item on the invoice, MathsWhizz, is an online mathematics tutoring system for five to 13-year-olds. If the use of the tool forms part of the school's curriculum, then only a donation can be asked for. If it is intended to extend a student's learning beyond the classroom, then a compulsory payment can be requested, but only if the parent or caregiver agrees to purchase it.

The same rule applies to Reading Eggs, which is an online programme to help two to 13-year-olds with reading. The 'Waterwise' item listed here - a water safety and confidence course - falls under the same category.

If these tools or courses are part of the curriculum then any fee would be voluntary and GST would not apply. A tax credit could also be claimed. But if it's an add-on a parent has agreed to, then it would have to be paid, GST would be levied and a tax credit is not available.


All schools can request a donation for school camps, including those which benefit from the government donation scheme.

If the camp is part of the curriculum, this counts as a voluntary payment, not a compulsory payment. Examples of this include overnight camps as part of a specific course, or camps as part of a general education programme, for example a year 9 orientation camp, or year 7 EOTC (education outside the classroom) camp.

Children can't be excluded from the camp if caregivers don't pay the requested fee if the camp is part of the curriculum.

Schools can't add GST to these requests and parents can claim the 33.33 cents tax credit on any money they contribute.


Is the student attending as part of their learning? Then it's a voluntary payment and there should be no GST. Or is it an optional thing they've signed up for? Then it has to be paid, including GST.

Being part of a sports team, or attending after-hours or lunch culture or sports activities falls outside the curriculum.

Request for payment from school

Photo: RNZ

Curriculum materials

Among other items that have appeared on school invoices are 'curriculum materials'.

Schools can't enforce payment for curriculum materials, but can request a donation. Caregivers can opt to pay all of the request, part of it, or none of it. GST can't be added to the amount and a tax credit can be claimed on any money contributed.

Specialist subjects and materials

Schools can't require payment for materials needed to deliver the school's curriculum, so this is also a donation.

There can be an exception to this rule when items are made to be taken home from school. This might be something the student has made in class, for example if the student makes a pencil case in a woodwork class and keeps it.

This rule doesn't extend to cooking classes as tasting the food is considered necessary to learning cooking skills.

The clear exception: Attendance dues

If the school is a state integrated school, it can ask parents for attendance dues. Catholic schools, for example, charge this as a compulsory property and insurance fee. This might be used to pay for new buildings, pay off existing mortgages and pay for insurance. No tax credit can be claimed for attendance dues.

State schools can't charge attendance dues. Private schools can charge fees.

Other fundraising activities

All schools, even those which are opted into the government's school donation scheme, can raise money through fundraising events such as school fairs. Schools can't force families to participate in these events.