Kirsty Johnston is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald.

New Zealand Budget 2016: At-risk students targeted, operational funding frozen

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Teachers say the $2 per week extra funding for disadvantaged kids announced in the budget is not enough to make a difference.

The Government's radical new education funding policy will give schools $12 million per year for about 150,000 at-risk students, defined as those from long-term welfare-dependent families.

It will freeze operations funding to make the changes.

It would mean schools which receive the extra funding will get four times as much per student compared to if the money was paid out across the board, and confirms earlier reports by the Herald that the Government plans to move to a risk-based funding approach.

"The targeted funding signals that we want to focus more discretionary education spending on the children at greatest risk of under-achievement," Education Minister Hekia Parata said.

"As a result, there will not be a general increase in school operational grants this year, but schools will continue to receive $1.38 billion in operations grants."

Usually, increases in school operational grants, which greatly affect resources and day-to-day operations, keep pace with inflation. In the year to March, inflation increased 0.4 per cent, and is predicted to continue to rise.

However, finance minister Bill English said he expected the sector to be happy with the announcement, as it would relieve pressure in the most needy places.

Principals, teachers and opposition politicians have slammed the idea despite both finance minister Bill English and education minister Hekia Parata saying it was what the sector wanted.

"It boils down to $80 per year so it's not going to go a long way," said Secondary Principals Association New Zealand head Sandy Pasley.

"I think it's fantastic that we're getting some funding for students that are in need. But it doesn't sound like very much to me."

Auckland primary principal Lynda Stuart, from May Rd school, said she was concerned.

"We pay teacher aides and support staff out of that operations grant. And those are the ones that work with our most vulnerable children."

She said it was unclear if the 150,000 children identified were the ones that needed that extra support. "I suspect there's more."

"Sure, target students who need more. But it's not very much. $2 per week speaks for itself. And also, make sure that everyone else is getting what they need so we can do the best by everyone."

The Post Primary Teachers Association said funding increases for school operations had decreased every year since 2010.

"The comparison with charter schools, which are guaranteed a funding increase each year, is a slap in the face," said PPTA president Angela Roberts said.

"Like Bill English says, we welcome extra targeting to students who are most at risk of failure. But he's dreaming if $2 a week is going to make any difference whatsoever. This isn't social investment, this is pure spin."

The Green Party's Catherine Delahunty said parents would end up paying more for their children's education instead.

"It is shocking that National is freezing funding for schools. Education should be at the top of any Government's agenda," said Green Party education spokesperson Catherine Delahunty.

"Operational funding goes into essentials like heating our schools, computers for kids, learning support, property maintenance, relief teachers, and trade academies. These are the basics of running a school."

Chris Hipkins, Labour's education spokesman, said the freeze would mean schools were effectively going backwards.

"The extra funding for 'at risk' kids equates to less than a pack of chewing gum per kid per day," he said. "Spread over a year, that might give them a couple of hours of specialist teacher support each year and that's about it. It's not going to make any real difference."

Today's Budget also announced that nine new schools will be built, including seven under public private partnerships, in a boost that takes annual education funding above $11 billion for the first time.

The Government would also spend more on children with special needs and early childhood education.

Much of the spending that spending was linked to population growth, as more children enter the schooling system and the proportion of pre-schoolers attending early childhood education (ECE) hits record rates.

High needs students would also benefit through a boost to the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS), which will get an extra $16.5 million over the next four years, meaning the total number of children on the scheme will rise to 8600. However, it seems likely there will still be a funding gap, as earlier documents have predicted the number of students needing specialist help, such as speech therapy or physiotherapy, will rise to 9370 by 2018.

While there was no increase to operational funding, the amount spent on education would still go above $11 billion for the first time, an increase from the spend of $10.8 billion last year.

"Education is the key to the future and this investment, at a time of low inflation demonstrates the Government's ongoing commitment to raising achievement for all our kids," Ms Parata said.

She highlighted the rise in the proportion of children participating in ECE, up to 96.6 per cent, and the 84.4 per cent of 18-year-olds with NCEA Level 2 as a success.

"Our children are starting school better prepared to learn and leaving school better equipped for adulthood," Ms Parata said.

Budget 2016 assigns an additional $1.44 billion to education. It includes $640.5 million of operating funding over the next four years.

The funding boost for at-risk students was part of a wider Social Investment package announced by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English. The plan is considered Mr English's pet project, where he has tasked Government agencies to map risk, allowing for early intervention and cost-saving later.

It would give 150,000 children from long-term welfare-dependent families an extra $43 million over four years.

"We know from our Social Investment research that students from long-term welfare-dependent families are at greater risk of educational under-achievement than their peers," Ms Parata said.

She said research showed that children aged between 6 and 14, who had been supported by benefits for three-quarters of their lives, had only a 48 per cent chance of achieving NCEA Level 2 by age 21, in contrast to 73 per cent of the population by that age.

The 150,000 figure is about the same as the total number of students at all Decile 1-3 schools, but will not be linked to decile, and is instead will to be allocated to schools via the Government's database which shares information across departments. No individual student would be identified, with the funding given to schools.

It is also not a replacement for decile funding. However, moves are underway to scrap deciles at a later date, with a sector review team announced this month.

"Budget 2016 targets new funding at where it will make the greatest difference and where the sector has consistently said it must go," Ms Parata said.

ECE will get an extra $396 million over the next four years, plus $39.2 million this year. By 2020, that will provide funding for a further 14,000 children.

Special needs students get an extra $42 million over four years, including $15 million already announced for extra teacher aides. As well as the $16.5 million for ORS, there will be an $8.9 million "extension" to the Intensive Wraparound Scheme, the Government's most expensive package for the students needed intensive, personalised support. That will provide an extra 50 places.

There was no extra funding for special needs children at early childhood, despite calls from the sector, and documents highlighting long wait-lists for under-5s waiting to see a specialist.

School property would get a boost of $882.5 million, with 480 new classrooms, nine new schools, two school expansions and the relocation and rebuilding of three schools and a kura. Of that, $155.2 million was operational, and $727.3 was capital.

Seven of the nine new schools would be delivered via public private partnerships (PPP). That means the private sector would design, build, finance and maintain the school property over a long term contract of 25 years, while the provision of education remains the responsibility of the principal and the board of trustees. The Government retains ownership of the land and buildings throughout the operational contract.

Only four of the PPP schools were named - Haeata Community Campus and Rolleston College in Christchurch, Wakatipu High School in Queenstown and Ormiston Junior College in Auckland.

"PPPs are a focus of the education property portfolio because they provide significant savings which can be reinvested in the portfolio," Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye said.

The Budget addressed growth across the country, with a particular focus on Auckland, and the rebuild focus on Christchurch, Ms Kaye said.

There was also $8 million of operational funding during 2016/17 for the Ministry of Education's specialised property team.

Tertiary boost

Universities offering science and medicine will get extra money to help them grow those subjects.

Budget 2016 will give $86 million in tuition subsidies to tertiary providers who offer science, agriculture, veterinary science and undergraduate medicine.

It will also give an extra $36 million for sub-degree courses - those most commonly taught at polytechnics - the first increase at that level for around five years.

There will also be extra funding for apprentices, free foundation courses, workplace literacy and numeracy and a suite of innovation initiatives in the university sector.

Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce said there would be $256 million for tertiary and apprenticeships in total.

He also allocated $410 million for science and innovation, and $96 million for regional economic development in a package labelled "Innovative New Zealand".

"[These initiatives] will help diversify the economy, and support more jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders in the decade ahead," Mr Joyce said.

Much of the funding was aimed at growing the science system, making STEM subjects a priority.

Initiatives in the "science and innovation" boost including $113 million for the new Endeavour Fun, a re-purposed contestable fund that has been re-focused towards longer-term, high impact, mission-led programmes of science.

There was also extra money for the Marsden Fund, Antarctica New Zealand, and the Strategic Science Investment fund, among others.

- NZ Herald

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