The merit of introducing more private enterprise into the education system was hotly debated in Parliament yesterday, with minister John Banks claiming it was a revolutionary move that would help "the bottom 20 per cent of kids".
He baited Labour MPs with claims that the late Labour educationist Prime Minister Peter Fraser would have approved of the schools, now officially called "partnership schools".
Labour baited the Government benches with the claim that controls would be so lax that the state could end up funding charter schools such as the Exxon Mobil School for Climate Studies, McDonald's School for Nutritional Studies, Monsanto School for Genetic Engineering and Destiny Church School of Scientific Discovery.
Labour also suggested that the proposed mergers and closures in Christchurch could result in some state schools being closed and charter schools being set up in their place.
Last night, Mr Banks, the Associate Education Minister and Act leader, responded to that by saying, "There are no plans to reopen any of the schools proposed for closure in Christchurch as partnership schools."
The debate took place during the first reading of the Education Amendment Bill, which establishes charter schools.
Mr Banks is responsible for the schools, which will be run by a private or voluntary sector sponsor and funded by the Government under a contract.
They will be able to set their own pay rates for teachers and other staff, and set their own hours, student timetables and term dates.
They will be free and any domestic applicant will have to be accepted - with a ballot used if there is excess demand.
Mr Banks sought to dispel suggestions that the schools would not be subject to any controls or accountability mechanisms.
"Each sponsor will be held to account through a fixed-term contract to deliver specific school-level targets negotiated with the Crown."
Mr Banks said the schools delivered on a promise of a former education minister who had said: "Every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country, has right as a citizen to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted, and to the fullest extent of his powers."
Peter Fraser had said that in 1939 and partnership schools were about "delivering his promise - same ends, new means".
The bill was "a revolutionary piece of legislation that will give the bottom 20 per cent of kids who fall through the cracks, who leave school with no attainment, with no education, with no further school opportunities, with no work training, with no hope and who are mostly on the dole and written off, an alternative to enter into a partnership school arrangement with a party provider through the Government".
Labour MP Chris Hipkins questioned why National had not put charter schools in its manifesto before the last election.
He said the bill would allow schools to do whatever they liked without being monitored.
Contracts will cover
* A fixed term.
* Reporting requirements including for National Standards for Year 1 to 8.
* Maximum number of pupils.
* Percentage of registered teachers required.
* The curriculum, be it the NZ curriculum or an alternative.
* Powers of intervention by the Secretary of Education or minister.