Yesterday’s release of leaked documents from the Ministry of Education on a potential replacement for the decile funding system was a good kick-start to the debate on school funding.
Predictably though, there does seem to be a lot of confusion about how schools are currently funded, let alone what’s being proposed.
To start off, on One News last night Katie Bradford said that government funding is “allocated based on a school’s decile rating.”
That’s a lot like saying “How well kids do at school depends on how good their teachers are.” Yep, it’s true to some extent, but there are a bunch of other factors that matter too, and their impact is far from negligible.
Conveniently, with regards to funding, we can work out exactly how big all these factors are.
That little red bit above, in the middle of each column is the part that is generated by the decile rating of each school. It ranges from 8% of total resourcing in decile 1 schools to 1% in decile 10. Compare this to locally raised funds, i.e. what they get from having fee paying international students, art auctions, or sausage sizzles, which ranges from 4% at decile 1 to 15% at decile 10.
Much to no one’s surprise, Mike Hosking was well off beam on the topic.
“Deciles are a very very blunt instrument, a big wide geographic net that somehow encapsulates a bunch of kids, based on little more than the value of the house they happen to live in. And having used that blunt instrument you then toss money at the school based on that number.”
While lots of people have been talking about the ‘blunt instrument’ of deciles, the reason for that is they do not recognise characteristics of individual students at a school , and not because they are an unsophisticated or simplistic measure. If you want to get into the details of how they are calculated, it’s all in this great post from Professor John O’Neill. Suffice to say, house value has nothing to do with it.
If, as Hosking asserts, decile ratings are used to ‘toss money’ at schools, then the graph above should show that low decile schools were getting significant amounts of their funding on that basis. It clearly doesn’t.
And talking about tossing money at schools, the amount that high decile schools raise from their communities, both as a percentage and in absolute terms massively outweighs any funding that’s generated as a result of measures of need. The figures are that the lowest decile get $42 million in decile related funding, while the highest raised over $100 million. To put it another way, decile one schools on average are 'tossed' about $145,000 per school by the government, while decile 10 schools each get around $380,000 from their local fundraising.
The only part of school funding that seems to be up for a change in the proposal that the Ministry is considering is that little red section, i.e. the decile component. It’s not insignificant, but it’s not exactly a comprehensive review of school funding, and won’t touch on much bigger questions, such as the overall sufficiency of funding.
One illustration of how we’re going with that can be found in the graph below – which is directly from the Ministry of Education’s website.
This shows New Zealand’s per student funding remain persistently below other developed countries. I’m guessing this isn’t going to be a part of the debate though, and instead we’ll have Hosking and other blunt instruments telling us that tossing money at things doesn’t help.