The Government’s decision, announced in the Budget, to offer decile 1-7 state and state-integrated schools the choice of not seeking donations from parents is a good one, says the New Zealand Catholic Education Office’s chief executive officer Paul Ferris.

Speaking to NZ Catholic from New York, where he was attending a (June, 2019) meeting of Catholic school proprietors from around the world, Mr Ferris said he expected parents of children at eligible Catholic schools in New Zealand will look to the schools’ boards to accept the funding offered by the Government to alleviate other financial stress in their lives.

In the Budget, it was announced that, from 2020, the Government will give extra funding to decile 1-7 schools in the form of a lump sum of $150 per student each year, but to get the funding, each school has to agree to stop requesting donations from parents.

Mr Ferris estimated that about 50 per cent of Catholic schools in this country will be eligible for the funding.

He told NZ Catholic that he would be meeting Associate Education Minister Jenny Salesa and Ministry of Education staff in mid-June to clarify how special character contributions paid by parents might or might not affect eligibility for the extra funding.

“Proprietors still have the right to seek donations for the support of special character, such as staff training or the establishment of buildings associated with special character. These rights exist in the Integration legislation and, providing they are shown as a proprietor seeking a voluntary donation, they will continue.”

Mr Ferris said that attendance dues will continue and are covered in the Integration legislation, and he does not expect these to impact eligibility for the extra Government funding.

Attendance dues are used to pay down debt and bring Catholic schools to the standard to meet Ministry of Education codes.

“NZCEO is very aware of the pressure created by attendance dues and works to keep these as low as possible. We still have significant debt to cover the costs of new schools and the upgrading to meet Integration standards.”

Mr Ferris added that the new Government funding “does not restrict a school from charging for materials consumed or excursions, which have a cost. Those costs will continue”.

He said there would likely be some questions in the education sector “around the limit to decile 7 creating an artificial break point, because some higher decile schools might well have chosen to access the funding”.

The overall cost to the Government of the extra funding is $265.6 million over four years.

Asked by NZ Catholic what other aspects of Vote Education in the Budget would be significant for Catholic schools, Mr Ferris responded: “The Budget generally had little to contribute to Catholic integrated schools.”

“We had hoped that the two new schools being considered for South Auckland and Tauranga would have been supported. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I understand that a small amount has been set aside for Policy Two projects (expansion of rolls), but it is much smaller than previously provided. I am yet to get confirmation of this provision.

“The great challenge in all schools at present is the settlement of the teachers’ salary awards, so that schools can return to their work without this major distraction to their teaching and pastoral care.”