Tag Archive for school fees

Money makes the world go round, is education making it go flat?

(with acknowledgement to George Bernard Shaw who had an opinion about us)

I work with a colleague who is fond of saying that “when money walks through the door, love flies out the window.”  So too, it seems do a few other things such as professional principles, concern for equity, decent behavior and a sense of modesty.

Well that is what it looks like with the various issues that money raises in education at the moment.

First there is the one related to school fees, compulsory donations, call them what you will. Such requests (and let’s be clear, in many cases these are demands) range from a modest $30 per family up to sums in excess of $1,000 per student. Private schools can and do charge whatever they like so that is not an issue. But state schools cannot. These requests are not allowed and this is confirmed year after year when the full flush of summer brings this issue to the attention of the community. Every year it is the same old story.

But this year there has been a new twist. One school hands out a badge that in essence identify a student as coming from a compliant home which has paid the fees demand. Another has isolated students until the “matter” is resolved. These are the instances that make it into the media. I would imagine that there is a further range of pressures applied that are less draconian and more gentle.

Will next year see the debt collectors actively engaged in following up the defaulters?

This issue needs tidying up. As for the bleating from high decile schools that they are struggling for funds – my estimation that equalizing the funding coming into secondary schools for size and factoring decile ratings and all that goes with that, high decile schools are at least 20% ahead of low decile schools in terms of actual funding. A school of 2,000 students charging $1,000 is collecting $2.0 million – to suggest that this compensates for the funding going to low decile schools but not to them is simply laughable.

Secondly there is the matter of partnership schools (charter schools some insist on calling them) and the employment of teachers. It is reported that a partnership school has recruited teachers from a high decile school and is paying them more. Teachers are paid more to shift schools all the time – it is called promotion. The practice of attaching MUs to certain positions in order to be more effective in attracting applicants is a standard practice.

The money mentioned is that up to five teachers were recruited and paid up to $16K more. Let’s assume that the five teachers were all paid that amount extra – that is a total of $80k spread among the five. That could be done in any school if they had the capability of managing their own destiny with regard to the deployment of teachers. Appointing five teachers and using the funding available for six would achieve this result.

Perhaps many teachers would be prepared to negotiate a contract that allowed this to happen.

And this brings us to a third money issue. Despite the notions of “self-managing schools”, now entering its fourth decade as an organizing principle for education in New Zealand, schools actually have very little capacity to manage themselves. Funding continues to be delivered in pre-spent bundles of cash attached to categories of expenditure which are predominantly fixed in a formulaic manner.

This is not much different from my dear Mum who would take the monthly pay that my father brought home and assign it to a series of tobacco tins each labeled with a category of expenditure – power, the milkman, school uniforms, food, etc. Despite the rhetoric, schools have about as much flexibility as my Mum had, including knowing at the end of the month just how much “cash” she had for other things.

This lack of flexibility on school funding acts as a brake on schools being comfortable in encouraging students who would be best to pursue a pathway other than in a school (such as the many pathways that are opening up now for students to do this). This is because there is some weight in the argument that as a student marches off to find success elsewhere, they see a little bundle of resources marching off with them, resources that have probably already been committed.

A self-managing school needs greater ability to manage money rather than simply do with it what they are told they can do.

Money is a real issue in education. It is time that issues such as the delivery of resources to schools were examined. And it is certainly about time that the demeaning issues of school fees in state schools was dealt to decisively.

New Zealand spends about as much money on education as do the very successful (in both achievement and equity) systems. Let’s now set off to get a similar bang for our buck.



Talk-ED: Free education! From what?


The New Zealand education system was established in the Education Act of 1877 as one which would be universal, secular and free.

Well the first of these, “universal”, is more honoured in the breech than the observance if you consider educational outcomes.

The middle characteristic, “secular” is disputed from time to time and the cycle is hotting up again on this one. The intent of the Act was I believe that schools were to be non-sectarian, non-denominational. If that is true then it has mostly been achieved as integrated, private and special character schools that cater for those who want a specific set of views, values and practices promoted within their school.

But the last commitment, that schools would be “free” is a real mess. Once again we see reports that the community contributed $98 million to New Zealand state schools  last year through “donations” which is a euphemism for “fees” and “compulsory charges”. These fees are levied on parents who have little choice in the matter. On occasion the fees have to be up front to secure an enrolment.

All this is, is a contributor to the iniquitous provision of resources to schools.

Higher decile schools get away with charging quite high fees while towards the lower end of the decile slope the schools have to consider whether it is worthwhile even asking communities for this extra money when those communities are under such pressure to pay for the daily necessities of life.

Up against this is a report that a young lady has been denied a ticket to the School Ball because the family are in the defaulters list for the donation. This puts an interesting spin on both the word “donation” and on the explanations that the school wraps around its actions. With 2,600 students and a reported fee of $175, they have a potential donation pool of $455,000 so it is a kitty worth protecting. And they would not be any means have the highest fee/donation.

It probably doesn’t stop there. In most schools students pay for being in a sports team, the costs of curriculum related field trips, items of equipment. Others demand that students have a “device” such as an iPad. Schools clip the ticket on supplying uniforms and stationery that are probably in the interests of the schools rather than the parents.

Higher decile schools have the opportunity to attract international students while lower decile schools do not. The reasons for this are various and some of them are not very pretty. But a school attracting 50 international students could be making anything from $0.5 million (this would really be conservative) to sums in excess of $1 million. They do this using state provided resources such as rooms, staffing  (for these students generate most of their teaching costs at the margins), principal salaries (since overseas trips to “visit markets” are an important part of activity it seems) and so on.

Again it is an income stream that is not equitably available.

I have not the slightest issue with any of this – parents have a right to spend their money however they wish and supporting their students in this way is nothing but commendable.

But it does stick in my craw when I hear the argument that low decile schools have privileged funding. Such claims can only be made by those who either do not understand the realities of a low decile school and its high demand students or those who have a very narrow view of the education economy.

Education is “funded” by the community. They fund it indirectly through taxes, a portion of which is passed on to schools, and indirectly though taking up the costs of education incurred by their children which includes the payments made by way of fees (that are all but in name compulsory) and the myriad of other costs that must be met by students if they are to have the full range of opportunities offered by the schools.

The real funding of schools is the total amount of money available to schools to spend. And here an issue lies. About 84% of state funding delivered to schools is fixed-funding delivered in little packets with its use clearly labelled on the front. This is not much different from the way my mother would budget using an array of tobacco tins, each labelled, into which she divided up the monthly pay packet faithfully handed over unopened by my father on pay day.

So a school relying on state funding only has in reality very little money that the Board or the Principal have discretion over. Imagine then the delight when those extra sources of funding open up.

If high deciles schools complain about the level of state funding for their school I would invite them to try running a low decile school with high maintenance students.

As Fred Dagg would have said – “You don’t know how lucky you are!”

As for the unhappy girl that can’t go to the ball? You aren’t the first victim of the school ball phenomenon but that is a grisly story that can only be told late in the evening.