27 Aug 2020

Taranaki education leaders furious at govt funding for private school

8:52 am on 27 August 2020

Taranaki teachers are fuming at a government decision to fund an $11.7 million expansion project at the privately-run Green School in Ōākura.

Green School New Zealand.

Green School New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The government says it will "secure" 200 jobs in the region, but principals say fixing crumbling infrastructure at state schools would employ many more people and benefit all students.

The Green School opened with some fanfare in February.

It has a focus on sustainability, but it doesn't come cheap with enrolment and tuition fees costing up to $40,000 a year for full fee-paying overseas students.

Associate Finance Minister James Shaw, who made the announcement, said the 'shovel-ready' project would enable the Green School to expand its capacity from 120 to 250 students, a roll which would allow it to contribute $43 million to the local economy annually.

The school currently has about 50 students half of whom come from overseas.

New Plymouth Principals Association co-chair Richard Anderson said teachers were concerned about what the decision meant for future funding.

"We've got state and state-integrated schools all around our province and the country screaming for funding for leaky buildings, modernisation projects and lots of overcrowding issues and we're just a bit worried this going to set a precedent."

Anderson said the move was unfair on children in state schools.

"We'd be really happy with it if similar packages were being offered at our local state and state-integrated schools.

"New Zealand education is about equity. They're big on equity and I don't think we would see this as equitable for all our people."

Climate Change Minister James Shaw at the University of Canterbury announcing six projects to be supported by the government’s clean-powered public service fund.

James Shaw. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Post Primary Teachers' Association regional chair Erin MacDonald also had equity on her mind.

"Providing a private school with $11.7 million of government funding is not a good use of government funds to provide equity of access to students in our region."

MacDonald said the region's Enviroschools - which also had sustainability focus - got $10,000 annually.

The Educational Institute represent 50,000 teachers.

Its national secretary Paul Goulter said teachers were angry at Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

"What really upsets is when they point to the Green's policy on public education it actually says public funding for private schools should be phased out and transferred to public schools, so what gives?"

Goulter said spending public money on profit-orientated private schools was wrong.

"And then with an overlay of trying to attract overseas students ... Why any school would be trying to have a business model that's built around the attraction of international students at the moment, I have no idea?

"So teachers and other school staff throughout Taranaki are saying what is actually going on here?"

James Shaw said the project was part of the Covid-19 economic recovery plan.

"The point of the whole $3 billion infrastructure spend was to put that money into the economy via infrastructure and construction and it's gone to an enormous array of projects. The way to look at it is as an infrastructure and construction project."

Shaw said the projected had been supported by the Infrastructure Reference Group and the New Plymouth District Council.

"The local council was keen on this project, both because of the near-term gain of 200 jobs, as well as representing a future economic development opportunity in the export education sector."

Shaw said infrastructure spending at schools was being accelerated through another government funding stream.

Green School CEO, Chris Edwards, said it was thrilled to get the funding which would not only support its expansion but add to the growth and development of Taranaki.

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