John Roughan: I already am contributing, thanks

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.