Budget 2017: Education - looking forward or playing catch-up?



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Increased and targeted operational funding, along with the promise of new schools and classrooms, has done little to satisfy the sector that the Government is thinking long-term or delivering enough to make up for funding shortfalls of the past.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye pointed out that education received “the largest injection of new money” from this year’s Budget since the Government took office in 2008, with an additional $1.1 billion of new operating funding over four years and an additional $392.4 million of capital funding.

However, unions have criticized the education spend as delivering the bare minimum to cover population growth and not enough to play catch-up.

Schools’ operating funding has been boosted to meet increasing student numbers, and has taken a more targeted approach this year. Schools with high numbers of at-risk students will receive a greater increase of operational grant funding through the Targeted At Risk Funding model introduced last year.

But the unions say it isn’t enough.

 NZEI Te Riu Roa estimates schools need an extra $50m a year in the operations grant to make ends meet, but will instead have to make do with $60.5m over four years.

“We were hoping for a major boost for education, but this wasn't even a catchup,” says president Lynda Stuart.

PPTA president Jack Boyle agrees.

“What we have instead is a timid sprinkling of initiatives that don’t even keep up with inflation,” he says.

Some of these initiatives have been well-received by the sector, such as the additional investment into statutory intervention for struggling schools, Māori language curriculum resources, ESOL programmes, and Kaikoura schools affected by November’s earthquake.

The $457 million investment into school property is also impressive – if overdue, according to some commentators. It will see the construction of six new schools, the expansion of two schools, 11 special education satellite units and 305 new classrooms, with the bulk of the work focused in Auckland.

Attention will also be given to getting existing school buildings up to scratch.

“We inherited a school property portfolio with an average age of 40 years, beset by issues such as leaky buildings and poor maintenance. We’ve prioritised extra money to tackle big issues such as earthquake strengthening, weathertightening and major redevelopments,” says Education Minister Nikki Kaye.

There is also money in the pot - $63.3 million to be precise – to support students with additional learning needs and expand specialist behavioural services for an extra 1000 children.

This allocation will mean an extra 625 students per year will benefit from teacher aide support. extend the provision of teacher aide support to an extra 625 students per year.

“By providing more teacher aides and programmes for children with autism, we are supporting young people who have challenges to get ahead while also ensuring teachers have more time for all the children in their classroom,” says Kaye.

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