A multi-million dollar funding boost will help to build ‘phase two’ of the private Taranaki Green School, which costs up to $43,000 a year to attend. But not everyone’s happy with the news.
Green co-leader James Shaw’s announcement of an injection of funds into a private Taranaki school as part of the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund has drawn strong criticism from the opposition, unions and a former Green MP.
Catherine Delahunty, who was in parliament for the Greens from 2008 to 2017, said news of the funding left her bewildered. “I understand about jobs and infrastructure but one of the things the Greens are meant to do is check back against what your policy is and what your values are and we just don’t support privatisation of the education system.”
She said it would only take a few minutes in conversation with a teacher or principal of a public school to understand where that money could be better spent. “Starting with learning support. There’s obviously a lot of public schools that need infrastructure improvement, but there are also a lot of other things.”
The Green Party education policy is clear in its opposition to state funding for private education. “Public funding for private schools should be phased out and transferred to public schools,” it states.
In his announcement of the funding, Shaw said the project would create 200 jobs in the area and drive national and international families to the Taranaki region.
“Securing over 200 jobs will help direct more money into the parts of the economy where most people earn their livelihood. These are the parts of the economy that are sustained when public investment is directed at getting people into work and earning money that they then spend in their local communities,” he said.
But NZEI Te Riu Roa national secretary Paul Goulter said the idea that this funding would provide jobs for the region was seriously misplaced. He says if the money had gone into improving infrastructure in public schools, those jobs would still be created.
“Those same funds being put into desperately needed construction projects at other Taranaki schools would attract the same number of jobs, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
“The second bullet point on their education policy says really clearly that money going into private schools should be diverted into public schools as part of their commitment to the public education system in New Zealand, which we have always welcomed. This has come out of the blue.”
National’s education spokesperson Nicola Willis called on the education minister, Chris Hipkins, to explain the spending. In a statement she said it was an “eye-wateringly generous” amount of money, considering Labour’s policy that “private schools can only access small operational subsidies, out of a capped fund, of between $1000 and $2000 per student”.
During today’s 1pm Covid-19 update, Hipkins addressed the funding, saying the Green Party “advocated quite strongly” for it. “It was one of their ‘wins’, if you like, from the shovel ready projects… It’s not necessarily a project that I would have prioritised.”
The Young Greens have also come out in opposition to the funding, saying in a Facebook post that they are “appalled that James Shaw took the stance of allowing funding to be given to a private school when there are so many low-decile and kura kaupapa Māori that would greatly appreciate this sort of funding”.
“This is not what the party stands for. This is not creating access to free, high-quality, and accessible public education.”
The chief executive of the Green School, Chris Edwards, said the money will help to build “phase two” of the school, which could extend the roll number from their current 120 to around 250 children.
“Once the border restrictions are lifted we can take the international parents who want to move to Taranaki which we can’t do until phase two is complete. We’re a destination school so those families will come into the region and invest and employ.”
Edwards said comparing this funding with other schools’ isn’t comparing apples with apples, because this money has been allocated specifically to create jobs and economic benefits for the region.
“[These are] two very different things. I would be supportive of any increased investment for quality education, wherever that is. This specifically is a build fund because the economic benefits for the region subsequently are deemed to be such that it is going to benefit the entire community.”
Goulter said the NZEI Te Riu Roa had communicated their disappointment with Shaw, and that Taranaki educators would be fighting the decision.
“Teachers and principals are really upset and they’re meeting to work out what steps they could take, and I’m sure part of it would be alternative ways to spend that money on desperately needed public school infrastructure. I don’t think this is going to go away anytime soon.”