The education sector was named one of the big winners in this year's Budget announcement, with $11 billion being poured into helping our schools teach the future generations.
Pretty impressive right? No, not when you realise what that money is being (and not being) spent on: $397 million for early childhood education (ECE), $883 million for new school property, $43 million for schools to target most at-risk students, and $42 million for high and special education students.
But the Government has turned deaf ears to the pleas of sector leaders I spoke to before the Budget, failing to substantially increase the operational grants of schools - even worse, putting a total freeze on the funding.
On the day of the Budget, a reporter turned to me excitedly saying "Steph, you'll be happy, education got a good chunk of this year's Budget".
But I knew I was not going to be talking with happy sector leaders as just a few days earlier, every principal I spoke to said their number one wish this Budget was to see the gap close between the cost of running a school and how much funding they got to cover that cost. What they got instead? Not even an increase to match inflation. Instead they will have to once again go out, cap in hand, asking for handouts to fund the fallacy that is New Zealand's free education system.
It's a tough time to be an educator. The feedback I've had from principals is that on the one hand they're expected to provide a world-class education and on the other they're having to explain to families the reasons why they are forking out for all the "extras" to make that world-class education a reality.
Then we have the money going into ECE to provide places for a further 14,000 children. It seems like all the Government is worried about is getting bums on seats because Rotorua is sitting at 90-something per cent ECE participation, yet children are still starting school with poor oral and literacy skills.
For me, the only commendable funding allocation was the $42 million for special needs students. This is an area principals have told me always needs more resources.
The $43 million for schools to target the most at-risk students is, in my opinion, only a drop in the ocean and cannot be compared to nor can it replace increasing operational funding across all schools.
The real problem lies not with how much money is being spent but where it's being spent. Once the Government sorts that out, the education sector will have something real to celebrate.
- Stephanie Arthur-Worsop is a Rotorua Daily Post journalist.