Parents Pay $1b To Prop Up School Budgets

Media Release 26 February 2012
Family First NZ says that parents have paid over $1b in school donations over the past four years to prop up state school budgets – and low income families in low decile schools are also paying significant amounts.

According to information gained under the Official Information Act, the total amount of school voluntary donations/fees actually paid by families in the last four years has been $234m (2007), $247m (2008), $272m (2009), and $266m (2010) – totaling $1.02b.

“Despite the Education Act saying that state school education is free, this is completely removed from the truth. Families are forking out large amounts to help schools meet their budgets and provide core services,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “This comes on top of school stationery demands, uniform costs, course fees, travel – no wonder families are under so much financial pressure at the moment.”

“We don’t see any evidence that school fees are being used to fund lavish education facilities, luxurious swimming pools, or special perks for teachers or students. Some schools would greatly struggle without these voluntary donations. And these amounts don’t include the huge amount of fundraising and sweat labour performed by parents to help fund schools.”

The Ministry of Education were unable to provide information on how many parents don’t pay the donation. In 2008, the PPTA said that 36 percent of school funding came from sources outside of Government operations grants and these were generally from local sources such as parents.

There has been concern parents are feeling pressured or even bullied into paying school fees, even though they are supposed to be “donations”, and in some cases, cash-strapped schools have flouted Education Ministry advice and turned to debt collectors to chase “voluntary” fees from parents.

Figures also showed that parents in low socio-economic areas are also paying significant amounts. An analysis of the figures by Family First show that parents of children in decile 1 schools in the Manukau area have contributed $2.5m in fees over the past six years. Parents of secondary school in South Auckland have contributed almost $4.5m over the past six years.

There is one positive amongst all of this.

“Amidst the concerns on rising school fees, and the uncertainty over whether school fees are compulsory or not, many parents aren’t aware that school donations qualify for the Donations Rebate. This rebate which now has no cap means that parents can get a refund of a third of the school donation. This may be welcome news to families struggling with beginning-of-year expenses,” says Mr McCoskrie.

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