The cost of a free education

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The right to a free education is a benefit of living in a country like New Zealand, with tax-payer funder privileges.

Crown-funded free education in New Zealand cost tax payers $12.3 billion in the 2013/14 financial year, with forecasts suggesting that the 2014/2015 year will top $12.8 billion. Additionally, education received a $244 million boost in the 2015/2016 budget.

But it’s getting tougher and tougher for schools to operate within the budgets set by the Ministry of Education according to New Zealand Educational Institute national president Louise Green. The current budget reflected a 1 per cent increase in operational funding, she said, and that was not enough to keep administration wages in line with the cost of living, or to account for rises in expenses such as electricity bills.

“It’s just a real struggle to keep up with all of the things that need to be paid for and at the same time, deliver to the children what parents increasingly expect from schools.”

New Zealand spends less on education than the OECD average; about NZ$9372 per primary student per year, compared to the OECD average of NZ$10,620. That means that schools resort to fundraising, sponsorship and grant applications, as well as requesting school donations from parents.

Then there are ongoing costs that parents pay for, with the biggest by far being technology, said Green. Children increasingly use devices to learn and to present their learning with, and that cost was not often able to be absorbed by the school.

Add to that the costs of extras – uniforms, trips, stationery – and the cost to parents of a free education (up to year 13) in a state-funded public school for a child starting this year is $35,000, according to the Planning for Education Index.

The peer-reviewed Planning for Education Index was compiled from a survey of more than 1000 members of ASG Education Programmes, who were asked about the cost of school fees, transport, uniforms, computers and school and sports trips.

The survey also found that for a child born in 2015, 13 years of private school education in New Zealand is estimated to cost $323,814. State integrated schooling could cost up to $107,962, almost a third of the cost of private education, with state education costing up to $37,676.

That’s a cost of more than $50 per week for each child in the state education system – an amount that some New Zealand families are struggling to meet.

ASG Education Programmes CEO John Velegrinis said that regardless of whether choosing to educate a child in a state, state integrated or private school, parents need to start planning financially for education from the time their child is born. And school fees are only one component of total education costs.

“There is a myriad of other costs involved including transport, uniforms and school books, excursions – which can create financial headaches if they’re not planned for.”

On the plus side, state education in New Zealand is more than 40 per cent cheaper than in Australia, costing families about $37,676 for a 13-year education, in comparison to $67,894 across the Tasman. But that’s still a hefty bill if parents don’t start planning early, according to Velegrinis.

“Education is one of life’s major investments – in some instances it’s an even bigger investment than the family home. What we’re advocating is that by putting a little bit away, parents are more likely to achieve the goals and aspirations they have for their children.”