Strong opposition to the Ministry of Education’s global budget proposal for school funding has been made apparent at the union meetings currently being held around New Zealand. Over 50 combined PPTA and NZEI Te Riu Roa meetings are being held between 5th and 16th September giving 60,000 union members the chance to discuss and vote on the proposed funding changes.
The global funding proposal would see schools receive combined funding for staff salaries and operating costs, with principals and boards of trustees responsible for allocating the funds. Many perceive the proposal as an attempt to reintroduce bulk funding for schools.
At the Marlborough meeting, support teacher Colleen Shipley pleaded against the funding proposal.
"It means low wages. Most supply staff are just above minimum wage,” she said, as reported by Stuff. "Hours can vary from term to term or year to year, depending on how much the school can afford."
At the Waikato meeting, NZEI field officer Maxine van Oosten warned against introducing bulk funding for schools, based on the experience of how early childhood education (ECE) services have been affected by inadequate funding measures.
"The clear message from ECE teachers to their colleagues in schools and to government is that bulk funding would take schooling in the wrong direction," said van Oosten, as reported by Stuff. "There is less job security and they use casuals and unqualified staff to help balance the budget. More casualised staff means children's learning relationships are put at risk.”
The global budget proposal is one of seven introduced as part of the Ministry of Education’s funding review. A recent report from the Funding Advisory Group echoed the concerns of many attending the union meetings, recommending that the global budget proposal should not proceed to the next stage of policy development, citing concerns about extra pressure on staff and uncertainty for schools. The report recommended the other six proposals should proceed, including a per-child approach to funding, more money for small and isolated schools and better accountability for student achievement.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was ‘not surprised’ by the group’s rejection of the global budget proposal. Despite this, the proposal will still be discussed by Cabinet.
In the early stages of the funding review, Prime Minister John Key said any proposals that were opposed by the sector were unlikely to be progressed. However, at Gisborne’s meeting PPTA executive member for Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast Jill Gray reported that the Prime Minister was showing signs of “wavering” from his earlier words, saying that if it makes a ‘few people grumpy’, then too bad.
“We need to let (John) Key and his Cabinet know it is more than a few people — 60,000 is a pretty good start — and possibly we are more than a little grumpy. We call it bulk funding, because it is, and it comes with massive risks,” said Gray, according to The Gisborne Herald.
Unions say the meetings are being held at either 9am or 1.30pm to minimise disruption, however the meetings have disrupted learning programmes for students all over the country, with parents having to make arrangements for children while the meetings take place.
Parata says she is disappointed the meetings are being held at all because the consultations on change are an open process, with both unions represented on the advisory committee.
Ministry of Education Deputy Secretary Ellen MacGregor-Reid also says the funding review isn’t primarily about a global budget and says it is early days for the review.
“There would be several years of testing of any proposals with detailed design work and modelling so that we can see the impact of any changes. And if there is a decision to progress change, we will continue to work alongside the education sector on the details in the coming years.”
The results of the member votes on the global budget proposal will be released next week following the conclusion of the meetings.