More blessed to give donations than to receive a compulsory fee?

Something seems to have gone a little awry when the principal of a large Auckland school calls for state schools to be allowed to charge a compulsory fee especially when that school collects $1.9 million from 78% of its families through school “donations”.

The claim is made that a student in a low decile school gets $932 more than a student in a high decile school.  This might be true but I do know that some time ago I did a little exercise to compare the low decile school of which I was Principal with a particular Decile 10 school and, when roll numbers were equalised and other factors such as incidental costs and other forms of income taken into account, the high decile school had an overall funding advantage of about 25%.

Now that was a long time ago (mid-1990s) and I accept that the gap has narrowed a little as governments have set out to address the differentials in student achievement and student need.

That is why it is a little less than the whole picture to claim advantage for low decile schools – that is perhaps why the principal was careful to note that the differences were for state funding. The whole picture needs to include:

  • the capacity of the school to collect “donations” from its parents and a high level of fee (oops, that should read “donation”) from a very high percentage of parents;
  • the capability of the school to attract international fee paying students which is generally income at the margins with perhaps additional support with English – but it is a worthwhile income stream for high decile schools;
  •  the willingness of parents to pay the costs of participation in many activities;
  •  the support that is derived from alumni of the school;
  •  the response of parents when asked to provide digital devices for the students
  •  the generally large size of the high decile schools’ rolls;
  •  and so on…

The fundamental principles of the New Zealand education system are that it be universal, free, and secular.

The first of these, universal education, is clear and remains the goal. The level of children under the school leaving age who disengage from school challenges the system in achieving universal education which could well be better measured in terms of outcomes rather than the simplistic and now inadequate measure of whether they can get to a school.

The third of these, secular education, was strengthened with the development in the early 1970s of the category of “state integrated” schools. Most school systems have their church school with varying degree of independence and that provides for parent choice in the matter of values and religious observance.

But “free” means “free” – no child should be denied an education because they cannot pay. It does not mean that those who can pay more shouldn’t do so, but in “state schools” parents cannot be forced to pay more. Of course schools all over the country test this principle with donations requested in a manner that implies compulsion, extravagant school uniforms that cost ridiculous sums of money, demands that students have their own digital devices, and increasingly charges associated with activities.

State schools are state schools. I am not troubled, as Chris Hipkins seems to be, by the thought that the schools raising the matter of compulsory fees would become more elite. Too late Chris. They already are. Look at housing costs in the XYZ Zone. The recent report in the newspaper about all this concluded that rather than buy houses at inflated prices to get into the XYZ Zone and taking into account the subsequent cost of schooling, parents might be better off to buy outside the zone and send their child to an independent school. That is a telling conclusion that surprised me.

 

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