The half a million dollar bung given to a new outfit to promote charter schools, E Tipu E Rea, takes the whole fiasco to new depths of corruption.
1. The new body is filled with Act and National cronies
Like Catherine Isaac, who is on the other publicly funded board that’s gouging the public purse to promote charter schools, Jenny Gibbs who is on this one, is a senior Act Party doyenne and a major donor to the party, giving over $50,000 in March this year alone. The chair of this group, Rob McLeod, is a former chair of the Business Round Table, and was shown to be busy fundraising for National in the emails released in Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men. And La’auli Michael Jones has been heavily tipped to be a future National MP.
The insistence throughout its proposal that this is an ‘apolitical and neutral’ organisation is risible.
2. It’s doing a political job with public money
One of its goals is to get opposition parties who oppose charters to change their position.
Clark’s Labour government had the pledge card fiasco, but did they fund a bunch of lobbyists to work on the National Party not to roll back their student loan policy?
Incumbent parties already have a huge advantage when it comes to winning elections, but then using taxpayer funding to try and undermine the ability of elections to actually bring about change is taking this to the next level.
3. No other organisation doing this sort of work gets public funding
In the application for funding they compare themselves to other organisations working in the sector that they claim to be similar to. The Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, Area Schools Association, Private School Proprietors and so forth, all do advocate on behalf of their members, with the ministry of education, and the public and government when they get the chance.
But those organisations certainly don’t get any government funding to do it. They run on the smell of an oily rag, with what they can collect in membership fees. This outfit is getting $500,000 in its first year from the government, and then claims that they will run on philanthropic donations. I’ve no doubt that the poor old philanthropist will continue to be the New Zealand taxpayer.
4. The procurement process was a joke
The ‘direct source’ method that was used to select E Tipu E Rea to be the support agency for charter school sponsors is rarely used, and for a good reason. A tender process, either open or closed, is more likely to result in better quality applicants, and a more cost effective service. David Seymour, who signed this off, is constantly whining about Steven Joyce’s ‘crony capitalism’, but this is even worse. The only justification given for using this method of selection in the cabinet papers was to get it running in time. This is the same justification that’s been used to slip through all sorts of questionable spending on this policy already – expediency trumps transparency and good process again.
5. There is already an outfit being paid to do this
For a policy which was supposed to cut down on bureaucracy there seems to be a lot of cash going into the pockets of people who aren’t actually involved in running the schools.
The ‘Partnership School Authorisation Board’ has spent over $500,000 already. While the ministry claims that these two organisations have separate roles, with the Authorisation Board providing advice on who should run charter schools, and E Tipu E Rea advocating for sponsors and helping them get nice applications in, they both are committed to the success of the policy, and building public support for it, such as the Authorisation Board’s charm offensive with the Iwi Leaders Forum to encourage them to get in applications.
And of course, don’t forget that the Ministry of Education and School Trustees Association are also offering significant support for charter schools, parachuting in new staff to help when they are struggling, and doing their own pro-active PR.
The ministry officials who signed this deal off should be feeling deeply uneasy about being involved. It stinks to high heaven, and I’d be very surprised if the Auditor General’s graft-o-meter wasn’t already pinging.