School funding shake-up

August 2014


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Associate Professor JOHN CLARK from Massey University’s Institute of Education suggests the Government has lost sight of free education and that there are more appropriate methods than parent donations to fund schools. 


John ClarkOf the 1939 Beeby/Fraser statement, Beeby was later to say: “the principle did lay down a general direction of desirable change and … any proposal to raise the cost to parents … would have offended against it.”

It was a good principle and served parents well. Schooling was free and deservedly so. Schools were funded to the extent that their needs were met from taxation paid for by parents, amongst others, with no requirement or expectation that parents would pay a second time around directly to schools. Those days are gone, and not for the better.

The state no longer pays its full share to the funding of schools but has progressively reduced its contribution even as costs rose. In turn, to make up the shortfall, schools have increasingly turned to parents to help them out. And so we have donations. Or are they donations?

We are very familiar with what donations are. Collectors for any number of charities and organisations are regularly seen standing on the street seeking donations in the form of notes and coins popped into a bucket or box. We, the passers-by, decide whether we will make a donation and how much we will donate. One person may put a two-dollar coin in the SPCA container and another may give a five-dollar note to the RSA poppy appeal. In short, the donation is freely given and gratefully received and no offence is directed to those who, passing by, donate nothing. No collector would ever dream of chasing after a non-donator and putting undue pressure on them to pay up.

School donations are a rather different matter altogether. The school makes it very clear that every parent ought to make a donation – even if they do not quite bring themselves to say that parents must pay up. Moreover, the school determines exactly what the donation shall be. It might be a very small amount, or at the other end, quite a large amount. Very little room is left for the parents to decide how much they will pay. Parents who do not pay are not left alone but are reminded that they have not made their voluntary donation of X dollars, even to the extent that some schools have regarded the donations as debts that have been passed on to debt collectors to collect.

Since state schools are not permitted to charge compulsory fees for general educational and curriculum activities (although fees can be extracted for extracurricular things such as school balls and school uniforms), then they dress up the demand for money as a donation – but this fools no-one. School donations are not donations at all and should not be described as such.

Interestingly, some schools (but not many of them) often the poorest schools in the poorest communities with the poorest parents have done the right thing and abolished donations altogether.

The response to the idea that schools should not require parents to make donations is that without the additional income that parental donations bring, the school would be worse off.

Possibly, but not necessarily. There are other ways of generating revenue that rely more on the generosity of parents and others to give in a voluntary way. To be sure, they may be more time-consuming, but where these involve the participation of students and their parents, there is likely to be a far greater sense of community and commitment than forced donations could ever bring about.

A measure of innovation and entrepreneurship in practice would certainly sit comfortably alongside expressions of innovation and entrepreneurship contained in The New Zealand Curriculum.

Would this be enough to satisfy the needs of schools? Probably not. So how are schools to make up the difference? Well, a return to the Beeby/Fraser position would be a good starting point of reasserting the principle of free public schooling and living in accordance with it rather than paying it lip sevice.

That the state, in the form of the present Government, sees fit to pare back the funding of schools from an earlier, more generous time, certainly sits unhappily alongside its ‘finding the money from somewhere’, to the tune of $359 million, to cover the costs of its Investing in Educational Success initiative. To pay selected teachers and principals from between $10,000 and $50,000 on top of their current salaries to do things that just may raise student achievement seems to be a gross waste of taxpayer funds. Going into the election, any party that promised to divert this money directly to schools so parents would no longer be required to make donations because donations were made illegal would surely get their support.

How might the funding be distributed to schools? Well, here is a thought. Let one state school seek parental donations, the wealthiest school in the country. Let total donations for that school from all sources, divided by the number of students enrolled, set the benchmark for the distribution of state funding to all other schools. If, for argument’s sake, the per-student amount was $2000, then every school in the country would receive an extra $2000 per student.

Now, that money could be used to make a real difference in so many schools across the nation, rather than it going into certain teachers’ bank accounts. Think what your local school, which your children attend, could do with this extra money. Think how it could be used to the benefit of all the children at our schools in raising their achievement. So, why don’t we do it? Good question. Ask your local candidates contesting the forthcoming election.


Political Party Responses

Education Review asked political parties for their stance on school donations. Here is what their spokespeople had to say:


National Party
The National Government spends a huge amount funding schools to make sure kids get the opportunity for a great education and to achieve the very best they can. 

Despite tight fiscal times, we put more than $10.1 billion into education in 2013/14, the highest spending ever in education.

We know schools face increases in costs. That’s why National has increased schools’ operational grants by more than $600 million over the past six years. These increases, on average, have kept pace with inflation over that period and have allowed schools to keep up with real costs.

The Government puts in significant funding to run schools. 

Donations are not compulsory and no parent is compelled to pay them. But boards can also decide if they want to ask for donations for additional activities or projects. That’s up to each school and their parents. They need to be talking about those expectations.

The latest data, from 2012, shows that donations amount to 1.8 per cent of government grants.


Labour Party
Affordable, quality education is a value that Labour and all New Zealanders hold dear. Increasingly, schools are putting that value under threat. The pressure being put on parents on to provide ‘voluntary’ donations to schools has reached unacceptable levels.

Donations effectively become a fee to attend state schools that just puts more burden on squeezed family budgets. Demanding donations consumes a significant amount of principals’ and teachers’ time, and strains the relationship between schools and parents.

When one school used school bag tags to identify kids whose parents had paid donations to shame other kids and parents, it was the last straw.

Labour wants principals to spend their time running schools and teachers to spend their time teaching, not pressuring parents for money. Labour will offer schools an alternative to demanding donations, because it is the right thing to do.

Labour will make sure that schools have enough money to meet their growing costs. In the past six Budgets, under the current Government, real spending in education has dropped four times. Real spending on education is now 2.3 per cent below the level the current Government inherited.

With the real value of spending guaranteed, teachers and parents will know that additional education policies we announce constitute a genuine increase in investment, not a cost adjustment in disguise. This measure will support schools and mean they don’t have to turn to their parents for money so much.

Labour will tackle school donations head on. State and integrated schools that agree not to solicit donations from their parents will be given an additional $100 a year of funding per student. For most schools, the $100 payment will be more than they receive on average per student in donations. On top of that, they will save the costs associated with soliciting, banking, and accounting for donations.

Lower decile schools will benefit significantly from this policy. Decile 1–3 schools receive an average of $60 per student in donations. Taking the $100 per student payment instead of asking for donations will increase their funding by nearly $7million a year.

Not all schools will choose to take this offer. Decile 10 schools receive an average of nearly $300 in donations per student. Those schools may decide they would rather collect those donations than accept the $100 per student in additional government funding.

This policy is costed at $50 million a year on the basis that all state schools in Deciles 1–7, 30 per cent of schools in Deciles 8–10 and integrated schools accept the $100 per student payment to stop soliciting donations.

Schools will still be able to require activity fees to be paid for the actual costs of extra-curricular activates such as school camps. They just won’t be able to ask for a general ‘donation’ to help fund school operations. The basic right to a free education will be protected by this policy.


Green Party
The Green Party believes in the right of every child to a free high quality education at their local public school.

Anything that weakens that right is a threat to a child’s education and so is a threat to the right of every Kiwi child to fulfil their full potential.

Ultimately, we believe public schools should be fully funded at a realistic level by the Government, so parents are not required to stump up with donations or fees that are needed to keep the school running.

As soon as charges are introduced, even under the guise of a ‘donation’, a barrier to education is erected. So we support ERO reviewing school fundraising policies and procedures.

Donations, if they are sought at all, should only be for genuine optional extras, not for the basic running of a public school. Many schools are unable to charge a donation at all and they should not be compromised by this. 

We also recognise the difficulties that schools are facing, after years of effective funding cuts, including half a billion dollars in real terms shaved off education in the next four years, as Government funding fails to keep pace with either inflation or roll changes.

The Green Party is opposed to any moves to save money by short changing our schools. It makes sense to invest in public education because it is the key to our prosperity, and the most effective route out of poverty. 

Our education policies will be announced closer to the election, but we promise to restore funding cuts to the sector.


Māori Party
The Māori Party believes that education must be fully funded if Government considers it the key to addressing employment and economic issues for families. The Māori Party’s key priority is whānau, so anything that maximises their educational outcomes is a good thing. Fully state-funded schools ensures every whānau has access to high quality education. 

However, this issue cannot be viewed in isolation. Consideration needs to be given to whether eliminating reliance on donations from whānau is the real problem. The reality is that there are all manner of costs incurred by whānau (uniforms, stationery, transport, resource fees etc.) that impede education outcomes, and eliminating one of those costs does not necessarily solve the ongoing problem for whānau – proactively providing support for their children’s education, the affordability of accompanying costs and having access to the kind of education that enables their children to flourish.

Our kaupapa tuku iho dictate that manaakitanga for our whānau and mokopuna ensures a level playing field is inherently the right thing to do if donations are required by the school or kura. If whānau are struggling to pay them, the state should support those in need of assistance to pay these costs. We also consider that in the case of whānau who are struggling, Whānau Ora Navigators may be able to assist in providing advice and support around budget management. Parents who can and do pay the school donation help the school and we should not discourage those who want to contribute.

We are investigating the concept of a sustainability planning facilitator to assist schools in looking at how best to manage the operational grant in a way to ensure quality outcomes for every child, irrespective of their parents’ ability to pay. We need to understand how schools have reallocated their income to manage competing priorities.

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