Land is close to being secured for a proposed charter school project between Ngai Tahu and a wealthy American businessman.

Marc Holtzman planned to lean on acquaintances, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to raise $10 million to $15 million for a new charter school.

The development comes as the Maori Party took a swipe at Labour over its unsuccessful attempt to stop two of its Maori MPs attending a charter school fundraiser.

Kelvin Davis, also Labour's associate education (Maori education) spokesman, and Peeni Henare both represent Maori electorates.


Labour leader Andrew Little dismissed that criticism and, after calling the MPs to his office, said the party would carry out a wide-ranging programme on raising Maori educational success.

He said that would not include charter schools - which Labour strongly opposes - but how to raise achievement for all Maori students, most of whom "were not getting the benefit of five times funding per student that the charter schools get".

Mr Little added: "Ultimately, the issue is Maori educational underachievement, and that's not changing under this Government. And the Maori Party is not doing anything about it."

Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, were introduced under a confidence and supply agreement between Act and National. They are bitterly opposed by education unions, but some Maori organisations have taken a keen interest.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Ngai Tahu said there was no update on the plans for a potential school.

However, former Queenstown mayor Clive Geddes, who has been working to help secure land near Queenstown for the school, said progress was expected.

"We are waiting for some planning issues around one of the areas of land we are interested in to be resolved ... we would expect a decision on that in the next few months."

Asked if Ngai Tahu was still involved, Mr Geddes referred questions to Mr Holtzman, who could not be reached for comment.


In February, Mr Holtzman told the Herald that, while it was early days, he planned to see if Mr Gates and other acquaintances might help raise seed money for a first New Zealand school. It is not clear if that is still the case.

In January, Mr Holtzman, who owned property in Gibbston, Queenstown, took a delegation, including Ngai Tahu's Sir Mark Solomon, to look at United States charter schools based around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).

Ngai Tahu's interest in working with Mr Holtzman was outlined in a report presented by Sir Mark at the Iwi Chairs Forum in February.

Sir Toby Curtis, the lead chairman for the Iwi Leaders Group - Partnership Schools, said no position was adopted at the meeting, but he was canvassing members and hoped to clarify a position shortly.

Two new charter schools are due in 2017, adding to nine already operating in Auckland and Northland.