Politics

Budget 2018: Education jump-start, but will it be enough?

The Government plans to hire 1500 extra teachers, increase special education funding and build more schools. But it could have been so much more, Shane Cowlishaw reports.

A beleagured education system has been given a Budget boost, but questions remain about who will teach in all the shiny new classrooms.

As expected, education received the bulk of investment alongside health, with the Government spending the past few weeks setting the scene of a ‘rebuild’ Budget.

In what could be described as a classic, fiscally-tight first year Budget, there was room to spend more.

Some will be asking why, in a sector that Labour so strongly indicated was in dire straits, more money wasn’t found.

Where the money goes

Both on infrastructure, and more teachers essentially.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told media last month the problems were far bigger than he imagined and there were at least a couple of hundred million dollars worth of school buildings that were in an “abysmal state”.

In an attempt to address that, $395 million in the next three years will be spent on new schools and hundreds of extra classrooms.

Christchurch gets $62 million of the package, as part of the school rebuild programme.

With principals scrambling to find enough teachers to cater for expanding rolls, about half of the $649 million in operating spending over four years will be spent on 1500 new teachers.

This is $72 million more than was allocated by the previous government last year.

Another large chunk, $204 million, will go to schools. This is made up of a 1.6 percent cost adjustment to operational funding (an increase that is lower than many schools were hoping for) and $129 million to keep up with growing student numbers.

Early Childhood Education is a big winner, with $590 million in new operating funding over four years – double what it was due to get under National.

Can the wallet open wider?

A real thorny issue still lies in front of the Government, however. Teacher pay.

An extra 1500 teachers to meet a growing population and reduce pressure on existing staff will be welcomed, but were will they come from?

With people leaving the profession in droves, it’s hard to see how a net increase of such size is possible when there are better-paying jobs elsewhere.

Both education unions, the PPTA and NZEI, have been salivating on the sidelines since Labour took control of the Beehive and are expecting a serious boost to wages.

They, alongside the Nurses Union, argue salaries do not accurately reflect the workload and it would be impossible to fill labour shortages without making the profession more attractive.

At the launch of its collective bargaining, NZEI president Lynda Stuart announced she would be demanding a 16 percent pay increase over two years for her members. This was estimated to cost the Government an extra $300 million a year.

Unsurprisingly, money for pay increases is not laid out for all to see.

It is one that will have to be tackled sooner rather than later though, as Finance Minister Grant Robertson is well aware.

“I’m not the kind of negotiator that’s going to put into the Budget the exact details of what I’m going to put on the table. We have made contingencies,” Robertson said during the Budget lock-up.

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