Labour's plan to help struggling parents by tackling school donations is a political ploy but at least it recognises the nonsense that donations are voluntary, says the principal of a decile one school.

Under Labour's plan announced yesterday, state and integrated schools that agreed not to seek voluntary donations from parents would receive additional funding of $100 a student a year. The plan has an estimated cost of $50 million a year.

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said it was expected to end requests for voluntary donations to the parents of about 500,000 school-age children. Most lower decile schools were expected to take up the offer. The Government says Labour is underestimating the cost of the policy and schools will pocket the cash but extract the same amount of money by bolstering so-called "activity fees".

But Tim Foy, principal of Huntly College, which dumped voluntary donations because of the financial hardship faced by many parents, was pleased with the plan.


"I'm never going say no to anything like that.

"We only have about 330 students but that's a significant amount of income that would offset many of the activities we offer the kids.

"I certainly get the fact that it's a political ploy, I understand all that, but at least somebody's starting to listen and actually understand that this game we play around asking for donations is a bit of nonsense really." Labour leader David Cunliffe said the policy was driven by the principle that every Kiwi kid should get a first-class education without cost being a barrier.

Mt Maunganui College principal Russell Gordon said his school asked parents for $95 a year or $140 for two children.

With a current collection rate of just under 50 per cent the school of 1300 students would clearly be better off financially under Labour's plan.

However, he said putting an end to requests for voluntary donations could undermine parental engagement with schools.

"I'm just concerned as to the social impact of parents and caregivers stepping away and saying education is free, I'm not going to add anything to the pot to help out my child and improve their overall education."

President of the school trustees association Lorraine Kerr said the plan "on the face of it sounds great ... but what are the trade-offs?"

Labour says schools that took up the offer would still be able to ask for "activity fees". Ms Kerr said those activity fees could be increased to pay for things now covered by donations.

That potential dodge was seized on by the Government.

"The only thing that the Labour policy is guaranteeing is that taxpayers will pay an extra $75 million and parents will pay exactly the same," Prime Minister John Key said in Parliament yesterday. Schools would charge more for activities.

Mr Cunliffe said a Labour government would closely monitor activity fees "to ensure they don't spiral out of control".

School donations

• A handful of school such as Huntly College don't ask for them, some schools such as Auckland Grammar ask for almost $1000
• Payment rates range from about 20 per cent at low decile schools to 80 per cent for high decile schools
• A Labour government would pay schools which didn't ask for them $100 a year per pupil
• Labour estimates the cost of the policy at $50 million a year