Editorial: New school funding plan deserves a better hearing

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The proposal was rejected yesterday by an advisory group set up Education Minister Hekia Parata, which includes the teachers' unions. Photo / John Borren
The proposal was rejected yesterday by an advisory group set up Education Minister Hekia Parata, which includes the teachers' unions. Photo / John Borren

Teachers in Auckland this week held the first of 50 planned stopwork meetings around the country over a Government proposal called a "global budget". Already they have had some success with the decision yesterday with the proposal's rejection by an advisory group set up Education Minister Hekia Parata, which includes the teachers' unions.

It would be a pity if this idea was stifled before the public has had a chance to understand it. Teachers' unions have been calling it "bulk funding", a proposal they resisted from the previous National Government in the 1990s. But as the "global budget" is described by the Ministry of Education, it does not look like the earlier scheme.

That one would have put all funding in the same pot and let schools decide what to spend on staffing and what to spend on buildings and other facilities. This one expressly proposes a separate allocation for property.

It is hard to know why the public has been hearing from teachers that schools might have to reduce staff to pay their power bills. Those will be the subject of separate grants.

The teachers' real concern is that the global budget for learning is not exclusively for teachers. It is not power bills that worry them, but electronic equipment perhaps. Rather than be funded for a fixed ratio of teachers to students, principals and boards would be able to balance a school's global budget between teaching staff and other instruments of learning.

The fear causing so many to leave their classrooms and attend stopwork meetings is the possibility that principals and boards might decide they can make do with fewer teachers if they organise all their educational resources for possibly better results. It is a possibility not a probability.

Schools that already have this flexibility, private schools and charter schools, do not replace teachers with machines. They value small class sizes above almost everything, as do parents.

But it is doubtful that every school needs the same ratio of teachers to pupils. There ought to be room for each school to decide how to spend its budget for best value. The present Government has been more determined than most to tag its funding of all social services for measurable results. It has published a set of specific targets to concentrate the minds of providers at all levels on concrete improvements.

To this end Parata and her officials are also reviewing the much-criticised "decile funding" for social disadvantage. They believe the information they now collect from schools enables them to direct those funds much more precisely to individual needs rather than rely on district statistics from the census.

This week schools were told how much they are likely to receive on the new basis. While those in well-off "decile 10" areas will receive even less under "at risk" funding, they cannot complain. Decile funding has been an inefficient device for getting additional funds to those who need them.

Efficiency should not stop there. Global budgets sound capable of producing better value for the taxpayers' outlay and should not be abandoned because teachers fear their jobs would be less secure.

- NZ Herald

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