It feels good to pay for your child's education, says the columnist. Yes, and I already am, I reply

This morning John Roughan argued in the New Zealand Herald that Labour's policy to end voluntary school donations for most parents was "imaginative" but "a pity".

Labour announced this week that if a school would stop asking parents for donations, it would get $100 a year per child. Estimates suggest that would be worthwhile for most schools up to around decile seven or eight. Higher decile schools charge more (let's not pretend they're really voluntary), with Auckland Grammar topping $900. So while it doesn't have the political power of "free education for all" it's a clever plan that takes the pressure off poorer parents but still means those who can pay, do.

Roughan however argues in his column:

The grant would probably succeed in ending charges for all but the richest schools and that, I think, would be a pity.

When my kids started school the household's budget did not have much to spare but I was surprised at my reaction to a fee. Having not previously given the subject much thought, I found I was glad to pay. Not much was more important than the kids' education and it felt good to contribute.

I was also glad there was no choice. Legally it was a "voluntary donation" but the principal's letter made it gently clear we would be letting down our children, other people's children and the school's aspirations for their education if we didn't pay our share.

Compulsion made the charge more respectable. The school claimed to be offering additional value for the money, it was not asking for charity. We were buying something, not "donating" which you do for nothing in return.

It's an argument that's been made around my house as well -- that we should contribute to our childrens' education, it's good to pay, education is worth it. And so on.

But I want to disagree on two main points. First, he felt good because, while he claims it was tight, he could afford it. I have a son at a decile 10 school. The donation's around $500. But there are a range of incomes in the school's catchment and it must be a huge bill for some. I bet they don't feel glad, but rather under huge stress.

Second, and this is my main point, Roughan says it felt "good to contribute". That he was buying something good.

But education is not a commodity to be bought. It's a right as a citizen of this land, something we are rightly proud of. All children, no matter who they or their parents are, deserve a top class education provided for them. It's not a tin of baked beans to be bought.

 

 

 

Comments (13)

by Nick Gibbs on July 05, 2014
Nick Gibbs

This policy is a gift for high decile schools that will still be able to charge for camps, uniforms, stationery packs, school trips, etc... and will have an extra $100 per student on top. That's good money.

Low decile schools which don't collect so much in fees, will also benefit. I've heard of decile one schools that can't collect $40 a year from their parents. So it's a big boost in discretionary funding for all schools. Coupled with a free Netbook for each child it's a cash bonaza for education.

by Nick Gibbs on July 05, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Sorry last line should read 'cash bonanza'. 

My only question is: If Labour intend to run surpluses, where are they going to get all the cash from? Big tax hikes or slashing services?

by Andrew Geddis on July 05, 2014
Andrew Geddis

This policy is a gift for high decile schools that will still be able to charge for camps, uniforms, stationery packs, school trips, etc... and will have an extra $100 per student on top.

Currently, such schools already charge separately for "camps, uniforms, stationery packs, school trips", as well as annual "voluntary" donations far in excess of $100. So ... no.

by Katharine Moody on July 05, 2014
Katharine Moody

I don't get John's argument - he's presently happy to donate (I get that) - so surely in future he can carry on donating?  All he needs to do if he has a beef about the school turning down the $100 "from his taxes" (i.e. not soliciting from him) - is subtract that amount from last years donation amount, but still offer them a donation.

What's he saying - rich folks aren't "naturally" charitable, so a clayton's sort of compulsion is required?

by Nick Gibbs on July 05, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Currently, such schools already charge separately for "camps, uniforms, stationery packs, school trips", as well as annual "voluntary" donations far in excess of $100. So ... no.

But the financial requirements on parents aren't going to drop. The "voluntary donation" may disappear only to be re-couped elsewhere from parents. My point being there's plenty of ways for schools to tack it on elsewhere. Meanwhile there's another $100 per students coming from the govt.

by Andrew Geddis on July 05, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Roughan doesn't make much sense (or, even less than usual). But he seems to be working from a model of a nice, middle class school where parents are all well off and easily able to afford donations. He also seems to assume that these donations are for added extras above and beyond the school's basic functioning. In such a case, he thinks it is "good" that parents are all (in effect) forced to pay for those added extras directly, because giving the school $100 or so will mean you really, really care about your kids' education. And if your aren't forced to do it, you won't, and so you just won't care as much.

Of course, you may think this is nonsense. And also, if any of his assumptions are wrong (the school isn't made up of nice, middle class families; the "donations" actually are a necessary part of the schools basic funding, without which it couldn't operate at all), his argument is completely invalid on its own premises. Readers  may then consider whether his assumed model is broadly generalisable.

by Brendon Mills on July 05, 2014
Brendon Mills

Just out of interest, anyone know how these donations end up being part of our education system?

I keep thinking 1989, when Tomorrow's School came in? Did school ask for donations when they were under benevolent wings of our education boards?

 

Probably might be news to JR, but contributing to your childs education is more than handing over a wad of cash. IMO every parent who makes sure that their child gets to school, no matter what, and gives them a hard time about getting their home work done, and improving their marks, etc is contributing to their child's education.

 

The parents who dont contribute, are the ones who dont care about homework, or who dont bother getting them to school.

by Katharine Moody on July 05, 2014
Katharine Moody

I'm with you, Andrew, he just isn't making any sense. So perhaps he's normally a cheerleader for National - wanted to somehow criticise the Labour policy but just found it really, really hard to do so. Hence, the waffle.

I found this admission very insightful;

Sitting on a board of trustees, I saw the principal's disgust with wealthy free-riders he would not identify even to us.

The "not even identify to us" implies that John thinks the principal should have identified them to the board members ... which just proves Labour's point that other parents and school staff do discriminate against those parents (and by association those children) who do not "donate".

"Wealthy free-riders".. how deplorable, eh? (lol) Bet however, he doesn't see tax minimisation strategies as free-riding.

 

 

 

by Katharine Moody on July 06, 2014
Katharine Moody

Oh, and I totally disagree with this statement of his:

Human nature values what we pay for and undervalues what comes free.

When I think about the things I value most in the world - they are my kids and grandkids (none of which were conceived for a price!) and special places and things in nature - a free flounder from the beach, or the view of Kapiti Island, or a swim in a pristine river.

John I think needs to get out of the office more - or out of Auckland altogether.

by Frank Macskasy on July 06, 2014
Frank Macskasy

 My only question is: If Labour intend to run surpluses, where are they going to get all the cash from? Big tax hikes or slashing services?

Funny how that questions is the first thing some ask when the issues is funding social services (housing, education, health, etc)...

... but never asked when it comes to funding corporate welfare such as aluminium smelters, movie companies, casinos, etc.

The thing is, we used to be able to afford all these social services. But with seven tax cuts since 1986, state revenue has not kept pace with funding state services and more and more "user pays" has crept covertly into our lives.

Remember once upon a time that we used to have free prescriptions? Now they cost $5 each.

Remember how we used to have free tertiary education? (Like John Key and Paula Bennet enjoyed.)  Now they can cost up to $90,000-plus.

Remember how primary and secondary schools used to be free... hang on. They still should be free according to law. "Voluntary" school fees  are a cunning way around the law, and Roughan and the anonymous Herald editorial are simply agitating that the fiction of free schooling is maintained.

Because the moment New Zealanders wake up to the realisation that successive governments have allowed/encouraged user pays into our education system is the day that National loses the election.

And that, my felloow Kiwis, is the nub of the issue.

by Ross on July 06, 2014
Ross

Not much was more important than the kids' education and it felt good to contribute.

Everyone already contributes by way of paying taxes.But as Katharine notes, anyone who wants to donate money to schools is and will continue to be free to do so. Labour's policy doesn't prevent parents from making donations.

by william blake on July 06, 2014
william blake

Thanks Frank.

by Tim Watkin on July 07, 2014
Tim Watkin

Katharine, utterly agree with your comments. It does show the pressure on parents. And if wealthy people feel they should pay more for education, well, it's called a progressive tax system. And yes, the best things in life are free.

And Brendon, interesting question. When were donations first sought? That was the thin end of a nasty wedge.

And Nick, Frank has a point. We spend well over $1b a year on "corporate welfare", including hobbits, smelters and casinos. (Much of it is well spent, but it's still a shipload of money, as Hekia might say).

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