Five good things about the school funding review, and one major concern
A few weeks ago the paper that Minister Parata took to cabinet about the funding review was released. It’s worth a read, but in the meanwhile, here are some of my takes.
One. Dropping the global budget.
I thought that this was likely from when Parata released the advisory group paper during the paid union meetings in September, the John Campbell interview she did that afternoon was as obvious as she could be about it before taking it to Cabinet. But it’s great to have it 100% clear now that this isn’t progressing – no fudging it and no attempt to make it an ‘opt in’ model. The Minister listened to the sector, which is one of the main things we’ve been hoping for.
Two. COOLs delayed until at least 2020
The paper makes clear that there won’t be any COOLs (except for Te Kura) until 2020, as their funding model will be dependent on what happens in this review. While we’d prefer this part of the Bill not to go ahead at this stage and there’s still a huge number of questions, delaying any opening for four years gives everyone a good chance to try and get things like their regulation and accreditation right, and we’ll keep fighting against the privatisation parts of the policy.
Three. This paragraph
The first part rules out performance related targeting (something that the Minister saw a bit differently when she spoke about a few years ago at our Conference). So that’s great. But the second part is also very important – this addresses the concern that the ‘at risk’ funding would have to be used for the kids identified by the MoE’s algorithm. This seems to be a way to address the worst risks of a heavily targeted ‘social investment’ approach – i.e. it creates an overall school profile but then the professionals on the ground make the judgement about the kids in need.
Four. Much more comprehensive measures for risk
Initially the five proposed measures to identify the ‘at risk’ students seemed to be not much of an improvement on the way that decile is calculated (other than the removal of the number) and left a large number of students who are currently not achieving out. The proposed new factors, 19 in total, seem to have much higher predictive power, and could allow for a range of risks to be calculated, possibly attracting different levels of funding.
Five. Recognition that more money might be needed
Unlike in the first round of papers, this paper explicitly states that the government might need to put more money in to meet the needs identified in the review. Of course, it’s a long way from a firm commitment, but it’s also a shift in the right direction from the initial position which seemed to be everything was going to happen within the current funding envelope.
Concern: are we drifting towards vouchers?
While I don’t think that there’s a nefarious plan to create a voucher system, the per child funding amount certainly makes it a lot easier if Parata’s successor as Minister of Education decided to go down that track. But what’s perhaps more worrying is that a per-student funding amount could create a culture shift in the way that parents, students and schools interact, which might not be for the best. Attaching a certain ‘value’ to each child could nudge parents and students to be more likely to expect ‘their’ spending to be accountable to them and that they get to decide on how it’s spent (e.g. demanding access to ‘extension’ programmes that might not be appropriate for the student or so forth). The demand from parents who are home-schooling or sending their students to private schools for ‘equitable’ treatment may become difficult to ignore, when there’s a dollar value so clearly linked to each student in a public school. Another example of how this could play out is with the funding of supplementary COOLs. This raises the prospect of students being able to choose to split their funding between institutions, which may be good for them but lead to conflict with their host school which is left with costs that are not covered.
Of course, currently we have a funding system that follows each student pretty closely anyway, and in effect each student is worth a set value to a school – but I suspect it will be different when that value is explicit. As happened with the number attached to the decile system, the intent wasn’t to ‘rank’ schools but that’s what it became – numbers used for one thing can easily become something else once they’re in the public domain.
This may sound esoteric, but I think that there’s a risk that instead of people expecting that the state provides each learner with access to high quality teachers, facilities, resources (i.e. an education system), that we shift to a culture of ‘purchasing an individualised education programme’ for each learner – which could, eventually, dramatically change what we think of as public education.
* Blog image, Give me Five! Creative commons by marfis75 on flickr CC-BY-SA