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A teacher tells you what you need to know about bulk funding

When it was scrapped in 2000, teachers and parents thought they’d seen the last of bulk funding, the hugely unpopular scheme for funding schools. Now it might be back. Donna Eden, a teacher with 20 years’ experience and a mother of two, explains why that’s a terrible idea.

The first I knew about this bulk funding issue is when I went to my kindy and saw that teachers were having a meeting about it. I wanted a cheat-sheet – what is bulk funding? As a parent, what do I need to know? I asked a teacher to give us a run down from her perspective. It’s a passionate piece, and that’s good. Teachers care about our kids – they didn’t enter this profession for the pay. I trust teachers when it comes to my child’s education. To me, it’s a partnership. Donna Eden has been a teacher for 20 years – let’s hear what she has to say about the possible future of school funding in New Zealand. – Emily Writes, The Spinoff Parents editor

Hekia Parata’s latest proposed update to school funding is causing a mighty brouhaha in the education sector, and rightly so. It might have a shiny new name – “global funding” – but it’s the same old bulk funding scheme that was so unpopular in the 90s and finally shelved in 2000. Now it’s back like fluro bike pants, lurking in the bottom of the wardrobe making everyone feel uncomfortable, frightened and a little bit sick. And it’s time to chuck it in the bin and be rid of it for good.

Teachers really don’t like bulk funding, so much so that they have been out of the classrooms meeting and rallying. And they’re talking to anyone who will listen about how our kids will be worse off.

And they will.

Why? Well, it will mean bigger classes and fewer teachers. It will mean our kids have less time with their teacher because instead of sharing him or her with 15 other children there will be 30 or more classmates needing the attention of their kaiako. It will mean less support for the kids that need it. It will mean fewer teacher aides for fewer hours.

It will likely mean untrained teachers in the classroom because they will be cheaper to pay.

It will mean winners and losers, and that, my friends, is not okay. Every child deserves the best, all of them, all over our country.

Education Minister Hekia Parata

Education Minister Hekia Parata

So what is the Ministry of Education’s proposal?

It’s simply that schools will be given a lump sum of money. And from this lump sum they will pay teachers’ salaries (which are currently centrally funded, meaning they don’t cost schools) and for everything else (think the power, water, supplies, first aid supplies, the caretaker, the office staff , support staff like teacher aides, any class room resources…)

There will be a separate pool of money for maintenance – property repairs and the like.

Why is it bad news?

Well, how much time do you have?

Firstly, because there is no new money. It’s just moving around the money that is already there. And it’s already not enough.

For the first time ever school operations grants, the cash that keeps schools running, have been frozen.

While costs rise, this budget won’t keep up. This means cuts to what schools can offer. It will start with trimming the extracurricular stuff. It won’t stop from there.

Hekia Parata is looking to remove the caps to class sizes and the guaranteed teacher funding this brings. It will mean that classes will get bigger – they will have to in order to stay within budget.

It’s like trying to do the grocery shopping with the usual budget when you have four extra people staying for the week. It just won’t stretch; something will have to give.

If it comes down to a choice between paying the power bill and paying a teacher, it is principals and boards of trustees that will have to decide who goes. What a horrible decision to have to make.

The second reason this is bad news: because by taking the property grants out of the hands of school principals they won’t be able to do the tweaking of budget that they currently do.

And let me be clear, this is not because they aren’t budgeting well – it is because there is not enough money.

Need extra teacher aid hours? We won’t paint this year.

Need new computers for the classroom? Then maybe that extra toilet block can wait.

Need to provide breakfast for half your roll? Then we won’t get new carpet.

Principals are using this money to fund the important stuff around teaching and learning and that money will be gone. You might have a shiny well-painted school but you will have lost all the things that this budget used to pay for.

They are talking about scrapping the decile system and instead targeting funding towards “at-risk students”. This may sound harmless, but it’s not. There is no new money for this; the funds will come out of the existing education pool – remember that one we talked about that isn’t enough?

We will be shifting money from some students to others. Targeted funding only works if the education system is already well funded. It does not work if you are shuffling cash around.

Once again, it just creates winners and losers.

What if it’s your child? What if it’s all the children at your child’s school? Your niece? Your nephew? Your brother or sister?

This funding that the minister plans to give to children in need is around $90 per child a year. That’s about $2 a week. What amazing services is she expecting to fund with that? It’s barely enough for a chocolate bar if you are having a bad day. It’s definitely not enough for a teacher aide, or a speech language therapist, or a physical therapist…

We have an amazing world-leading curriculum in schools and in early childhood education (ECE) services in New Zealand. We have some of the best, most qualified teachers in the world. We have dedicated support staff and we could have an amazing, world-leading education system.

But instead we have an education minister who seems focused continuing to cut dollars from an already underfunded system.

Already we are under-funding our children’s education by about $1000 (US) per student, per year, compared with other OECD countries.

Why we are trying to cut costs any more is beyond me.

Teachers are worried. As a parent I’m worried too.

Global funding is bad for kids and it’s bad for schools and ECE services.

Our kids are worth more than a cut price education system. They deserve the best and it’s time the minister listened.

So let’s get in there. Talk to your teachers, ask them about global funding. Let them know that they have your support. They are battle weary and they need to hear that you are worried too, they need to hear that you think it sounds like the worst idea since high heeled jandals.

They are fighting for what is best for our children, for your children, for mine – and it’s lonely in the trenches. Hekia Parata is great at spin, at pretending that “all the fuss” is because of naughty grumbling teachers. But frankly what else is she going to say? She wants to keep her post as minister and for people to keep voting for her. And it’s much easier to blame teachers for not being able to make the system work than to admit to a failing system. She says that we are putting more money into our education than ever before, and she is right. What she doesn’t say is that it’s because we have more children in the education system than ever before. More bums on more classroom seats means more money. Spin.

Please help others understand the reality. Talk to fellow parents, grandparents, your work mates, your friends. Talk to your MPs. Talk on Facebook, tweet, go along to a rally, wear the t-shirt, spread the word that our schools need better funding not bulk funding.

As a teacher and a mother all I can say is: Please, next November vote education. Look for a party that will fund our schools, and put our kids first.

Donna Eden has been an ECE teacher for 20 years. She currently works with infants and toddlers and thinks we could all learn a lot from them – especially about speaking out when you don’t agree. She is a lesbian, feminist, badass and mama of two awesome children with the best sweetheart ever. She works hard to practice kindness, fairness and mindfulness every day. 

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