An American equity fund manager who wants to open charter schools in New Zealand was introduced to Ngai Tahu leaders by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English.
Hong Kong-based Marc Holtzman plans to open charter or "partnership" schools which he hopes will lead to an education "revolution" in New Zealand.
He said Mr English, who he has known for many years, introduced him to Sir Mark Solomon of Ngai Tahu, who wants to establish schools in partnership.
But the plan, revealed in the Herald yesterday after a confidential report was obtained, is opposed by Labour, which has promised to scrap charter schools.
"I'm very concerned about the idea that you get these sort-of philanthropist, corporate people coming in and trying to buy up large chunks of the education system," Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said. "If they are genuinely philanthropic and want to contribute, then they could start by supporting the existing education system rather than trying to do something in competition with it."
A spokeswoman for Mr English said he knew Mr Holtzman, until recently the chairman of Meridian Capital Hong Kong, "reasonably well" because the American was a constituent of his in the Clutha-Southland electorate for 10 years.
Mr Holtzman recently put his luxury Gibbston, Queenstown property on the market for $4.75 million, and plans to rebuild in the region.
"Mr English also knows Mark Solomon well. As Mr English did with many constituents over the years, he'd suggest people they might want to talk to who had similar interests," the spokeswoman said.
"In this case he put Mr Holtzman in touch with Ngai Tahu because he knew Ngai Tahu had a strong interest in better educational outcomes."
Mr Holtzman also approached Act Party leader David Seymour and former Act president Catherine Isaac, who is a member of a board that helps decide who will open partnership schools.
In January, Mr Seymour, Ms Isaac, Sir Mark and Mr Holtzman toured mostly charter schools in the United States that are based on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).
The New Zealand members, who said they all paid their own way, saw the Denver School of Science and Technology, which Mr Holtzman co-founded.
Sir Mark was impressed and outlined Mr Holtzman's proposal in a confidential report presented at the Iwi Chairs Forum at Waitangi last weekend.
Sir Mark was disappointed the report had been obtained by the Herald, as nothing had been decided and he was yet to present it to the Ngai Tahu board.
While Mr Holtzman made clear his desire for Stem-focused partnership schools, Sir Mark said it was too early to say what model could be used.
"It would be my hope that Ngai Tahu continues to investigate and sometime in the future maybe invest in one, two, three of these schools," he said.
Mr Holtzman said he wanted to give back to a country he loves and plans to settle permanently in soon.
There was cross-party support for charter schools in Colorado, US, and he believed the Stem-based model would be a success here, too.
"We want to scale this model. We want to see it in the urban areas as well. If you really want to impact scale, you have to go to Auckland and Christchurch."
• American businessman Marc Holtzman plans to approach acquaintances including Bill Gates to help get $10-$15 million seed money for his first New Zealand charter school.
• He has talked to Ngai Tahu leaders about a partnership, but hopes to eventually have the science and tech-focused schools throughout New Zealand.