Parents and advocates are calling for the Ministry of Education to overhaul a system they say forces children with special needs to "compete against each other" for additional support.
New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI), through its Ngā Aukaha All in for Tamariki campaign, is demanding more resources and funding for children with special needs.
NZEI wants the ministry to expand its Ongoing Resource Scheme, which funds additional support and resources for children with high needs.
The union estimates the Ministry of Education rejects about a third of funding applications because they do not meet the criteria and thousands of children are missing out as a result.
To qualify for funding, students must have ongoing extreme or severe difficulty in one or a range of areas including learning, hearing and vision, according to the Ministry of Education website. About 1 per cent of the school population requires the support of ORS funding, the website states.
The ministry says a review of the Ongoing Resource Scheme was under way.
Rotorua mother Nikola Smith supports the campaign.
Her 17-year-old son Jett, a Year 12 student at a Rotorua Christian school, has battled ADD, dyslexia and anaphylactic allergies his whole life with almost no funding for support, she said.
Smith changed her career to help ensure her son got the support he needed in the classroom.
When Jett was 5, sole-parent Smith, who used to be a personal trainer, wound up her business to become a volunteer teacher aide before completing a teaching degree.
With no resource teacher, Smith believed she had to be in Jett's classroom to provide more support.
"I needed to learn how to teach him in a way that he could learn ... that was my mission."
Despite Jett's diagnosis, he does not qualify for the Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS) funding.
"ORS funding is horrendous, if you're over a certain level, which is very low, you don't qualify."
Jett has achieved NCEA levels one and two at a reading age of 7. He also won the diligence award and Gateway prize at his recent school prizegiving.
Smith felt hopeful about the campaign.
"I don't want any other kids to go through what Jett went through and I really don't want any other parents to go through what I went through."
Rotorua's Kaitao Intermediate art and differentiated learning teacher Wendy Stafford has started a programme to support students with different learning needs despite having no funding or special-needs teacher training.
As a mother of dyslexic children, she has focused on teaching children with dyslexia that "they're not broken".
Twenty-five students were involved in the programme this year, 36 students were already enrolled for 2022.
The Toe by Toe reading programme, which Stafford taught at Kaitao Intermediate, raised her 12-year-old son's reading age from 6-and-a-half to 16-and-a-half in less than a year.
Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said, "The current ORS system is grossly inequitable as it forces disabled children to compete against each other to access limited funding.
In his opinion: "The Ministry of Education is effectively playing musical chairs with ORS funding by providing far fewer places than children who need access to this support."
Walker said, in his view, it was a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Christchurch mum and teacher Louise Hoggart became an early intervention teacher to help her son diagnosed with autism, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"I'd love to say that his story if unique but it really isn't."
Her son has left school with lots of trauma but no qualifications due to the lack of funding and support.
Hoggart said it was unfair that her son did not fit into the criteria for Ongoing Resource Scheme funding.
"It's structured in such a way that it's only available to those with the very highest needs.
"Because he wasn't an ORS funded student we can't access support for him to maybe transition ongoing education or online learning."
Hoggart said the New Zealand Education Institute was asking for more teacher training, more funding for teaching aids and a review of funding criteria through the campaign.
New Zealand Education Institute president Liam Rutherford said, "Many tamariki are missing out on the support they need due to severe underfunding and extremely long wait times for support services."
The aim of the Ngā Aukaha All in for Tamariki campaign was to ensure children felt connected, supported, and valued in their education.
The campaign is calling for:
• Funding a dedicated Learning Support Coordinator or SENCO in every school and early childhood centre
• Expand the ORS criteria and increase the funding available so that it is based on need, rather than a fixed amount of funding
• Increase dedicated teacher aide funding in early childhood centres and schools. (Currently, just two-thirds of teacher aide hours are funded by Ministry of Education learning support).
• Increase the number of specialists (eg. psychologists, physiotherapists and resource teachers) to meet student needs.
• Develop and provide greater professional development (including career pathways) and specialist opportunities for educators to develop their understanding of learning support, including Initial Teacher Education
Ministry of Education operations and integration leader Sean Teddy said a review of the Ongoing Resource Scheme was under way.
The scheme formed part of the $1.1 billion suite of interventions the Ministry of Education provided for those who needed learning support.
"The review will be completed in 2022. About 50,000 to 80,000 children and young people are expected to benefit," Teddy said.