Parents prop up schools to tune of $250m

Home Schooling is not so expensive after all:


Parents of these Christchurch six-year-olds will pay thousands for their education.   

COSTLY BUSINESS: Parents of these Christchurch six-year-olds will pay thousands for their education.

New Zealand parents are forking out a quarter of a billion dollars a year in school “donations” to help prop up schools.

With an average cost of running a large secondary school estimated by principals at $10 million, that means parents are fully funding the equivalent of 25 big high schools – buildings, equipment, maintenance and wages.

Increasingly donations are being used to pay for one of the most important areas of the curriculum – new technology.

The struggle to keep students up-to-date with fast moving technology, vital to the country’s future, is bringing the issue to a head, principals say.

Teachers and parent groups alike say the concept of “free education” is nonsense and the education system is dependent on parents propping it up.

Secondary School Principals Association president Patrick Walsh, principal of John Paul College in Rotorua, said: “I think the concept of free education at best is seen as aspirational, or is seen as disingenuous by those who propose it.”

Education Minister Hekia Parata said: “Schooling has always had a cost. That cost has principally been met by the government of the day, and that continues to be the case now.” She says parents have always – and will always – need to pick up some cost.

But parents are saying the donations and fees demanded by schools are getting too much. According to information gained under the Official Information Act by lobby group Family First, the amount of school voluntary donations paid by families in the past four years has totalled more than $1 billion – $234m (2007), $247m (2008), $272m (2009), and $266m in 2010.

One family, which wants to remain anonymous, told the Sunday Star Times they had worked out the high school one of their children attended was receiving a “criminal” $158,000 a year from parents.

“We worked out our child’s high school, with around 800 pupils is getting around $158,400 just from the basic school fees (if everyone pays) and this is a simple public school. It’s criminal that parents are being put under this much pressure. The government simply needs to provide more funding.”

The family has three children, one in primary, one in intermediate and one at high school and were paying $100–$200 each for fees at each school.

“This is on top of the donations for fairs and fundraisers, the sports fees, school camp fees, module fees, performance fees, and swimming fees, etc. And then you have the fees on top of the fees.”

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Bob McCroskrie, national director of Family First NZ, said: “Despite the Education Act saying that state school education is free, this is completely removed from the truth. Families are forking out large amounts to help schools meet their budgets and provide core services.”

Walsh said: “The reality is schools couldn’t afford to function without a contribution from parents or finding some other secondary income stream.”

He said the issue had been “brought to a head” over the cost of technology in schools.

Parata said governments had always provided school systems but parents had always “contributed their part”

“Parents have always provided pens and pencils, and calculators and compasses and in this day and age technology is related to the internet.”



There is resentment among parents about being forced to subsidise the education system.

Of the more than 270 parents of school-aged children canvassed by the Sunday Star-Times 90 per cent pay the voluntary donations but 54 per cent said it had become tougher over the past five years.

About a third of parents are finding it so tough they have to pay by instalments. Some said the “voluntary” fees paled into insignificance when compared to individual subject, camp, uniform, sports, activity, photocopying and stationary and text book costs.

About 40 per cent said they had to pay an additional fee for information technology with some schools charging more than $100 for that alone.

This is what some parents said:

“The fees/donations keep going up, the so-called free schooling in the public sector no longer exists and therefore the schools are crying out for more money as the government doesn’t give them enough, and that’s usually just for day to day maintenance, not replacement of buildings or equipment.”

“I have never agreed with the way schools charge parents for `donations’. These have increased dramatically over the years and my experience is that some schools won’t take no for an answer but hound you long after your children have left. The government should be funding public schools to a far greater degree.”

Five years ago we had three school-aged children, with the eldest two at a high-decile school that charged very high fees. That saw us paying more than $1200 for the two of them combined. The add-ons were the killer.”

“All three children at school now means more than $1000 a year in school donations, so we have to pay it a bit at a time when we can.”

“I understand that if I do not pay it’s my child who will be punished by not being able to go on field trips and other school activities.”

“Fees for intermediate went up 40 per cent this year. Last year I was able to pay lump sum, this year I have to do instalments.”

However, some parents were happy to help their school.

“I believe that parents need to pay fees where possible so schools aren’t struggling to provide the standard of education our children need. I think there should be a cap for parents with several children. We have only one child and are happy to pay fees”

“We realise that paying these donations allows the school to provide essential services to the pupils and teachers. There is no question of not paying them, even though we are already paying our full share in taxes that should be covering these things. I object to some people not paying the ‘donations’.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

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From the Smiths:

Updated 24 February 2012: Life for Those Left Behind (Craig Smith’s Health) page 6 click here


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