Almost 3000 teachers and support staff from early childhood through to secondary school education packed out Claudelands Arena on Monday to discuss and vote on a Government proposal on the Funding Review of the education sector.
The controversial global budget proposal was criticised by speakers who accused the Government of attempting to re-introduce bulk funding, a mechanism done away with in 2000.
Speakers from both the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) and Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) said the proposal would lead to less spending on education and inevitably increase staff-to-student ratios resulting in poorer outcomes for children.
Under the global budget, schools would receive a total funding pot rather than separate operational grant funding and staffing entitlements.
This would effectively mean schools receive all resources in the form of credits for staffing and cash. School principals and trustee boards would determine the split, and any unused allocation of staffing credits could be paid to schools in cash at the end of the year.
Last Thursday a central government Funding Advisory Group advised that the global budget proposal be dropped from the Funding Review, with six other recommendations including taking a per-child approach to funding, additional funding for those most at risk of under-achievement, supplementary funding for small and isolated schools and better accountability for student achievement.
Minister of Education Hekia Parata said in a release she was "not surprised" by the Group's recommendation that the global budget not proceed to the next stage of policy development.
"The Group's report, and together with feedback from around 90 regional meetings with teachers and principals, will help inform my report to Cabinet on the options to take forward."
PPTA spokesman Jack Boyd criticised the Minister at the event for not outright rejecting the global budget, despite being unable to find any major party who supported it.
He said the formulae which currently restricts the student-teacher ratio and saw government pay teachers directly was a crucial protection to avoid class sizes swelling and quality of education declining.
"If this is removed school will have no guaranteed minimum number of teachers to be paid for directly by the government, and that is exactly what this proposal does," he said.
He said by schools determining the split between staffing and cash there were fears that schools might respond to rising costs in other sectors by cutting support staff or teachers.
"Prudent school leaders will be highly unlikely to ever make a permanent appointment of a teacher because they would be at the financial risk when positions go."
Mr Boyd said government were motivated by monetary savings and the proposal would help facilitate the privatisation of New Zealand's education system.
Ms Parata said the global budget was one of seven proposals for improving the current education funding systems and was all about flexibility for schools to make decisions about how they use their funding in the best interests of their students.
"It has nothing to do with "laying the path for privatisation of education" and comments like that make it quite clear that there is significant misrepresentation of what is actually proposed," she said.
"Our Government continues to prioritise children and young people getting a good education. That's why we have increased funding for schooling by around 35% and more than doubled funding to early childhood, since we've been in Government."
Mr Boyd said at the offset of the Review Prime Minister John Key stated if the sector didn't like proposals they would not be progressed, a statement Mr Boyd said he was wavering on.
"The Ministry has had its road show, now it's time we had ours."
Speaking on behalf of the NZEI Jan Tinetti said teachers could not leave children's education to chance, and that the removal of hard-fought protections like the central funding of teachers could not be allowed to be degraded.
"In fact we actually need to fight to extend central funding to support staff and ECC [Early Childhood Education] workers as well."
She said the proposed global budget and establishment of online schools represented a cost-cutting war on public education.
The meeting was one of more than 50 held nationwide on the issue.