Last Thursday was Budget Day, a highly anticipated event in politics.
This year, the stakes are even higher as we head into an election year, and polls are still showing near even support for both major political parties. The pressure was on for the Labour government. With their budget announcements, Labour would be signalling their political priorities, hoping to bolster support.
Before the announcement, we had a few clues on what the budget would entail. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and the wider Labour are hanging their hat on “bread and butter issues”, meaning Labour would likely focus their policies on their traditional voter block: the working-class.
This meant we could expect the budget to address issues that concerned the average worker: cost-of-living, transport, housing, climate change and – of course – education. With school attendance regularly in the headlines, and the many intersections between education and cost-of-living, it’s not unexpected that Labour’s 2023 Budget would include a spate of plans to help our rangatahi and our struggling education industry.
Here, School News breaks down the announcements.
Technically a pre-budget announcement, Hipkins indicated $400 million would be funnelled into school building programmes, including the building of four new schools and additional funding to existing infrastructure rebuild programmes.
Speaking to Stuff, Secondary Principals’ Association president Vaughan Couillault said the funding would go “quite some way” to easing pressure on schools in the next few years as many existing classrooms were not fit for purpose.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Mark Potter concurred, but he warned that without a matching focus on teaching staff, enrolment pressures wouldn’t ease up.
“We know a lot of school are under pressure to expand and find enough classrooms for the rolls they have or will have.”
Some educators felt the news was misleading, however. Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Pāpāmoa College principal Iva Ropati said that the funding announcement for school expansion was packaged as a new initiative, when the plans had been in the works for years.
In response, Sam Fowler, Ministry of Education’s head of property said that the additional funding was announced as a response to increased costs, which meant more money was needed to finish existing plans.
Another flagship announcement for education in Labour’s 2023 budget is a significant funding boost for ECE. The 20 hours free ECE scheme will be expanded to include two-year-olds in March 2024, costing an additional $1.2 billion.
Another 339.3 million will go toward pay parity for ECE and care service teachers. A further $260 million will go towards ECE services, including $3 million for Playcentre Aotearoa.
In a press release from NZEI Te Riu Roa, Geena Fagan, a union national leader and an ECE kaiako in Otago called the announcement a “historic win”, as ECE teachers had been fighting for pay parity for three decades.
Their primary colleagues, however, were less than impressed with the $23.6 million announced towards teacher training enrolments. The money aims to attract 1700 overseas teachers to New Zealand.
Primary teachers at NZEI Te Riu Roa said they were disappointed that school funding has not kept up with CPI, and there was no indication of an investment in teacher pay, staff or specialists. President Mark Potter said:
“What we wanted to see was a Budget that looked at crucial issues around staffing, workload relief and decent pay. As a society we will be in bigger debt if we don’t invest in our tamariki and their teachers.”
Free lunches in school will continue, with an additional $323.4 million announced to deliver the programme, which could save a two-child family $60 a week.
This announcement was welcomed by union members, with Arakura school Principal Tute Mila saying:
“Having this support for whānau is a positive move, it’s just disappointing there isn’t a commitment to expand it to other schools.”
“We talk a lot about the good will of educators and I feel that this Budget is expecting us to keep running our schools on that goodwill. I feel invisible in terms of the priorities by this government. I’m disappointed,” she said.
Further funding will go toward addressing wages at NZQA and cost pressures at Pacific Schools, the ERO and the Independent Children’s Monitor.
The Christchurch Schools’ Rebuild programme receives $198.7 million for 33 school projects.
$147 million will go toward modifying school buildings, aiming toward accessibility: automatic doors, lifts and refitting bathrooms.
Māori-medium infrastructure is receiving $134.4 million to meet the government target of 30 percent Māori students learning in the Māori-medium system by 2040.
Ngā Iti Kahurangi infrastructure programme will receive $63.1 million for upgrades to small and isolated schools.
$39.1 million will be spent on cybersecurity and IT at schools and kura.
$9.9 million over five years will go toward the Local Histories programme, helping local iwi and hapū to codesign local curricula with schools following widespread interest.
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Mark Potter did acknowledge that these announcements were a “win” for the education sector, but said that there was more work needed.
“There’s been some really good developments in education because of union action with things like pay equity, curriculum reform, and for the first time in years, a first small step to reduce class size. Now is not the time to slow down. We urge the Government to finish the job.”
Finally, in a win for alternative schools, $41.1 million will be granted to address “historical underfunding”. Read School News’ interview with Independent Schools of New Zealand’s Chief Executive Guy Pascoe, here.