Your Story: School charges don't always stack up

By Lynne R McAnulty-Street

1 comment

New Zealand's schools at the compulsory education level (ie Years 1 to 13/ages 5 to 19) are all set to start their annual parent rip-off by charging "fees''. In Sonya Bateson's excellent Start of School Year Costly for Parents article (The Daily Post, Jan 12), Rotorua's budget advisor failed to provide parents with some crucial information.

Parents need to know:

There are regulations covering whether a "fee'' or a "donation'' (sometimes billed as a "levy'' _ a synonym for donation allowing the party requesting it to "suggest'' the amount to be donated) is permitted and under what circumstances. Ignoring for now "state-integrated'' schools, which have both government funding and (more dubious) rights for charging further fees ...

Parents do not have to pay a school fee for elements of compulsory education _ that means, anything coming under the delivery of the various curricula. "There is no charge for primary and secondary education at state and state-integrated schools for children aged 5-19  who are New Zealand citizens or permanent residents.''

Further: "Schools may ask for donations towards running the school.'' _ note _ donation _ parents do not have to pay it.

When the "bill'' arrives for the school fees, ask the school to provide a complete break-down of the figures. Anything related to compulsory education delivery _ don't pay. Anything related to school running costs _ don't pay. The school is not allowed to isolate or in any way humiliate your child/ children, nor to prevent them from taking part in a compulsory activity (e.g. visiting speaker, concert parties ...)

Schools may charge for such activities beyond the curriculum _ such as school camps, trips put of school or town to visit sites of dubious value or interest. They must seek your permission first, they must justify the activity to you in terms of how it relates to compulsory education. If you choose to allow your child to take part, you must of course pay that fee.

If your child does not want to take part in the off-site activity, you are free to refuse to pay and to refuse permission for him to take part. However, you must still send the child to attend the school days over which the activity occurs. During that period, your child must not be sent to another class to be "babysat'', but must be given educational activities and lessons at his/her correct level.

A school can also ask for the fee to cover the cost of materials used by your child in such compulsory activities as woodcraft, plastics technology, food technology (aka cooking), fibre or fabrics technology (aka sewing) etc _ but only if the child chooses to bring the finished product home. I know of some students happily saving the fee for their families by taking a cellphone picture of their completed work to show Mum and Dad.

Parents are entitled to have these "activities fees'' shown in detail, showing exactly which activity is incurring which cost, and you are entitled to pay for each as the activity draws near, not all at once. Almost every good school will allow parents to discuss arranging such a payment schedule.

Why am I so determined parents should have this information? As a one-time principal of a rural school I know it had never in thirty years charged fees for anything, except the annual senior student camp _ and the students did their own fundraising for that. The school ran like clockwork on what the government apportioned us, and as just one example, our spending per pupil on new library books was 10 times that of my next school _ a state- integrated boarding school charging immense termly fees.

By the way _ families do not have to pay for photocopying worksheets for class distribution if it is a compulsory activity.

If it's a sheet for homework, your child does not have to bring it home, and the school is not permitted to punish or in any way humiliate any pupil who has not filled in the homework sheet _ indeed, he/she cannot be punished by the school for not doing homework.

[A question you may choose to teach your children to politely ask, whenever they are herded to an assembly involving a guest performer or speaker, is: "Do I have to go?'' and if the teacher's answer is 'Yes', then to politely remind said teacher (or Principal) "Please remember then that as it's compulsory you may not charge my family for this.'' And smile.]

Source: Fees & Donations, Ministry of Education website,

Lynne R McAnulty-Street is a former principal and Daily Post reader from Rotorua.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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