State school education in New Zealand is supposed to be free, however many schools are increasingly reporting funding pressure, which sometimes gets passed on to parents.
New Education Minister Chris Hipkins has planned action to stamp out 'covert' fundraising by schools, such as marking up uniforms to make a profit, although this practice doesn't seem to be occurring in Horowhenua schools according to local principals.
Chris Hipkins told NZME this week that the new Government's overall objective was to make sure a state school education in New Zealand was free.
"The reality is, and every parent in the country knows, at the moment that's not what they are getting. Parents are being asked to pay more and more of the cost of their kids' education," Mr Hipkins said.
"We are going to be taking a much firmer line on that.
"If you look at the variability and cost of uniforms between schools it is clear that some schools are making quite a lot of money."
Horowhenua College principal Grant Congdon said he was aware uniform costs were a concern to some families and the college tried to keep costs as low as possible.
He said he was not aware of colleges engaging in the practice of using uniform prices to covertly fundraise.
"The only uniform item we sell from college is our college tie for our senior students, which we sell at cost price. All other uniform items are sold through Clark's Clothing in Levin," he said.
"The college does not make any mark-up on uniform costs."
A basic set of uniform (a shirt, shorts or a skirt and a jersey) for a Year 9 at Horowhenua College cost approximately $220.
Waiopehu College also had its uniform sold through Clarks with no mark-up going to the school.
Principal Mark Robinson said fundraising that way was not something the school would do.
He said the college tried to help families out with uniform costs in a number of ways, including encouraging those leaving the college to donate used uniform items back to "recirculate" and buying back second-hand blazers to onsell at the same price the college paid. There was also a hardship fund.
Basic Waiopehu College uniform for a Year 9 student cost around $300.
Manawatu College principal Bruce McIntyre said the college ran its own uniform shop, and a five to ten percent mark-up covered costs. No outside retailer meant prices were the lowest of the district's colleges. A basic set for a Year 9 student cost approximately $180 - $200. He said they "absolutely did not" have any covert fundraising practices at the school, and tried to help families who struggled with uniform costs including through access to charities and with a hardship fund, as well as an automatic payment option for uniform costs.
Mr Hipkins said the government would also look into schools charging compulsory fees for activities that are part of the core curriculum, such as seeing a play students will be assessed on.
Schools can only exclude non-paying children from activities or events that aren't part of the core curriculum, like a sports or social event or camp.
Mr Hipkins said he would sit down with the Ministry of Education to work on guidelines to be provided to state and state-integrated schools. It was still to be determined when those would be circulated, or whether the guidelines could be as specific as advising what an acceptable margin on uniform sales was.
Labour recognised that it needed to fund schools properly to remove the impetus for unacceptable fundraising efforts, Mr Hipkins said.
It will give schools that agree to stop asking for voluntary donations from parents $150 per student.
Mr Hipkins said he expected more than half of all schools to sign up to that scheme, but it was still unclear when it would begin.