19 Jun 2019

High-decile schools disadvantaged by donation policy - principals

8:57 pm on 19 June 2019

Principals at high-decile schools have warned MPs that they are tackling problems, including incest and drug addiction, and they shouldn't be cut out of the government's school donation policy.

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Photo: 123RF

The leaders of two Tauranga schools told Parliament's Education and Workforce Select Committee that excluding schools in deciles eight, nine and 10 from the $75 million-a-year scheme was unfair and inequitable.

The scheme will pay schools in deciles one to seven $150 per child if they do not ask families for a voluntary donation.

The principal of decile nine Oropi School near Tauranga, Andrew King, told the committee the policy wrongly assumed that high-decile schools did not have disadvantaged families.

His school had nearly 350 children and it was helping about 50 or 60 with some serious problems, he said.

"Here are some of my examples of the struggles we have in my high-decile community: families dealing with suicide, sexual abuse, incest, physical abuse, domestic issues involving the police, a drug-related issue last week involving the police, custody issues, we are feeding children breakfast at school and we are supporting families facing financial hardship," he said.

His school might have fewer families facing such difficulties than schools in lower deciles, but all schools had children from disadvantaged families, Mr King said.

He said his school received $12,000 a year in donations but would receive $48,000 if it was covered by the government's policy.

Mr King said he agreed that low-decile schools deserved more funding than high-decile schools, but the donations policy was not fair.

"It is not addressing inequity. It's not a positive step forward for all children and whānau. Marginalised people in high-decile communities are missing out."

The principal of decile eight Pillans Point School in Tauranga, Matt Simeon, told the committee the school asked for an annual donation of $100 per child, or less if families had more than one child at the school.

He said about half of the school's families paid the donation, resulting in about $25,000 per year, which was $50,000 less than the school would get under the donation policy.

Mr Simeon said the government's policy could harm his school's donation income because some parents were unhappy that their school was being left out.

"We could actually get less donations because parents are saying 'if it's actually free or being paid for in other schools, why would we pay for it here in this school'," he said.

Mr Simeon said although his school was high-decile, many of its families were in low-income jobs and sharing accommodation with relatives.

"A decile and the affluence of the cost of real estate around your school does not represent the clientele or the people that make up your school," he said.

Mr Simeon said the government should consider paying high-decile schools an amount between their current donation earnings and what they would get if they were included in the $150-per-child scheme.

Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said high-decile schools were feeling shortchanged.

"There are families from every socio-economic background who are in high-decile schools and so if we want a fair and equitable education system, one that's fairly funded, then every school should be able to opt into this policy."

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Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick says there's families of all backgrounds in high-decile schools. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had never ruled out including high-decile schools in the scheme in future.

"Over time, our goal is to ensure that cost is not a barrier for anybody. We have to start somewhere. Decile one to seven is a reasonably significant start and then in time we'll get to look at the decile eight, nine and 10 schools again, I'm sure," he said.

"The reality, though, is that high-decile schools do find it easier to raise locally-raised funds and the numbers clearly demonstrate that."

Mr Hipkins said schools were not allowed to pressure parents into paying a school donation.

He said the government had to make sure the system was robust so schools could not take the government's money and then find another way to get donations through a different channel.

"Frankly the decile eight, nine and 10 schools are more likely to be in a position to do that than the lower decile schools," he said.

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