A 7-year-old child who still can't speak will get extra help next year thanks to a new $150 grant to low- and mid-decile schools that agree to stop asking parents for donations.
"I have a child who doesn't have any oral language at all," says Shirley Maihi, principal of Manurewa's decile-1 Finlayson Park School, which expects to net an extra $148,500 a year from the new grant scheme.
"He doesn't write. He is 7 years old, and he quietly sings and builds with blocks. He doesn't have any support from Ministry of Education services."
Maihi applied for Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) funding for the boy, but was turned down. She is now preparing to apply again.
• Schools may scrap camps to get new grant
The school uses its operations grant to pay for a teacher aide to spend one hour a day with him, but Maihi says he needs the aide for four hours a day. And she will be able to afford it when the $150 grant per student per year kicks in next January.
"I think this change that we are talking about is a huge step in the right direction for supporting the tail of learning," she says.
"They say we have this long tail of Māori and Pasifika. This will go a long way to providing the resources to make sure we keep those at-risk children off the at-risk list."
A Herald email survey of schools has found that 175 of the 186 schools in deciles 1 to 7 that responded (94 per cent) will "almost certainly" or "probably" accept the $150 grant and stop asking parents for donations.
One principal of a Northland decile 1 school says the grant will "pay for essentials for tamariki such as lunches, clothing, stationery".
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Rubina Wheeler, principal of decile 2 Nawton School in Hamilton, says the grant "will enable us to provide all stationery at no cost, provide a free school hat, subsidise a second school shirt for $10, provide camp at no cost and provide extra teacher aide support to students".
Ally Gibbs of tiny decile 3 Mulberry Grove School on Great Barrier Island stopped asking for a $60 donation three years ago because the families of her 17 students struggled to pay it.
"It is hard enough for families to pay stationery and trip contributions. I personally pay for students as I know family circumstances, and I know lots of schools, especially small rural schools, who will cover the stationery costs rather than ask families," she says.
For schools like these which receive next to nothing in parental donations, the $150 grant for every student will be a godsend.
For Finlayson Park, whose $2.4 million annual operations grant already includes targeted funding for low-decile schools, the extra $148,500 represents a 6 per cent boost.
Across all decile 1 to 7 schools, the Budget allocation of $75m a year for the new grant will lift operational funding by about 7 per cent .
But some mid-decile schools are now undecided about whether to accept the grant because it appears that they would have to stop charging parents for school camps, class materials and activity fees, which the Education Ministry considers to be "donations".
And some schools in deciles 8 to 10 are angry that they have been excluded from the grant, even though the Labour Party promised before the last election to offer it to all state and integrated schools.
"Many of the principals feel short-changed," Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick says.
A bill implementing the new grant was introduced in Parliament under Budget urgency on May 30 and submissions closed on June 16. Even the Principals' Federation was "unaware of the submission date and missed it".
Cormick says the rules around what will be classed as "donations" are still unclear and the ministry has invited him to a meeting on June 27 of "a group looking at implementation".
The ministry has told schools that it will "provide more information in July" and that school boards must decide whether to opt in or out of the scheme by November 14.
Most schools will be better off by opting in if they consider only what they have traditionally called "donations".
An analysis of school accounts by Herald data editor Chris Knox, to be published on Monday, will show that 65 per cent of decile 1-7 schools recorded donations of less than $150 per student in 2017.
The recorded donations included funds received from trusts and charities, which contribute about $20,000 a year to Finlayson Park School. Only 10 of the 186 decile 1-7 schools in the Herald survey ask parents for more than $150 per child, and even those 10 receive less than $150 on average.
However, as well as recording $52m as "donations" in 2017, decile 1-7 schools also recorded $107m as revenue from "activities". That is where they are likely to have recorded parents' payments for school camps, trips, swimming lessons, technology materials, workbooks and other curriculum-related costs which the Education Ministry now says cannot be enforced so must be treated as "donations" .
If they have to give up all that to qualify for the $75m grant of $150 per student, many mid-decile schools will be worse off and may have to cancel camps and other activities.
Ironically, however, while mid-decile schools may be forced to cut those activities, the change may enable low-decile schools to run more camps and activities.
At Finlayson Park, Maihi already has a list of things to do with her extra $148,500. As well as more teacher aide hours for students like the non-verbal boy, she lists "bus trips and entries to activities that we have not been able to afford", free stationery, sports team registrations and extra classroom resources.
Her parents have no spare money to pay for such things.
"Most of our parents are beneficiaries or on part-time work. We have about 52 per cent of one-parent families. Our families are really struggling to get their heads above water," she says.
She has children who have been picked for representative sports teams but can't play because their parents can't afford the transport. Others want to do waka ama but can't get to it.
"If we had that support, we could use some kind of transport system to get them to where they want to be," she says.
For 20 years the school has owned an old bus. When the Herald visited this week, two classes were just returning on it from the Howick historical village.
But Maihi says: "My bus driver is a sickness beneficiary and I can only have him on certain days because we can't afford to employ a bus driver."
The extra funding will change that.
"That money would be well spent on supporting our children for more opportunities for experiential learning outside the school," she says.
"My thinking is that we'll have more opportunity to go further afield, maybe take them to the snow or to Ninety Mile Beach - places that our children would never get to."
In the Herald survey, trips and other "education outside the classroom" experiences are the second-most-popular item that principals plan to spend their new funds on, mentioned by 37 schools - behind more teacher aides and other learning support for children with special needs, listed by 51 schools.
Other priorities are classroom resources (33 schools), computers and other technology (20), paying for school camps (11), more teacher hours (8), and paying for stationery and sports registration fees (7 each).
But principals of mid-decile schools face a different calculation. Andrea Clarke, of decile 7 Kaukapakapa School near Helensville, says her board will have to weigh parents' desire to take the $150, so that they don't have to pay donations, against losing activities that widen the children's experiences.
"If a school accepts this offer that they will no longer be able to ask for contributions towards things like school trips, shows and camps, [and] if they do the MOE will investigate and take money back," she says.
"If this is indeed fact (and it would appear so), for us to even come close to winning out of this offer would mean we do not go on camp next year."
Her school asks parents for $180 or $200 for the Years 5 and 6 camp. It recently charged $12 per child to take 200 children to a science fair. It asks parents to pay for visits from Life Education and from drama and dance groups - all on top of its $150 annual "donation".
Simon Stack, of decile 6 St Bernard's College in Lower Hutt, says he asks parents for a "donation" of $150 a year, but also for a further $200 a year for school trips, workbooks, identity cards and other things, and $280 for the Year 8 camp.
All those activities could be unsustainable if he takes the $150 grant.
"If education outside the classroom is valuable then fund it - or is it something that NZ believes only higher decile schools should be able to offer?" he asks.
"The Government need to stop playing the political game of smoke and mirrors and just increase operational funding to adequately fund stuff you and I would expect as being the norm for our society."
Lorraine Taylor, of decile 9 Lynmore School in Rotorua, has said that she will have to stop asking for a $100 donation from each student next year because Lynmore is the only primary school in town that will not qualify for the $150 grant, so competitive pressure will force it to adopt the same policy as surrounding schools.
But that will cost it $20,000 in revenue, reducing its ability to sustain "a much more interesting and varied curriculum than many other schools".
Education Minister Chris Hipkins has said he costed extending the $150 grant to all state and integrated schools. The school data shows that 191 out of 559 decile 8-10 schools received less than $150 per student in donations in 2017, and extending the grant to their 85,831 students would cost an extra $13m a year.
"I've certainly never said we won't be extending it to every school. You have to start somewhere, and this year's Budget puts it to decile 1 to 7 schools," Hipkins told Newsroom this week.
"As the decile system is phased out we will have to have a different system of doing this anyway," he said.
He told the Herald work "is currently underway with sector experts to develop an equity index that would replace the decile system, with a view to it being tested and available to be implemented from 2021 or 2022".
"We will monitor the donations replacement scheme once implemented, and consider any changes including extending it once it is up and running."