Court delays hearing over state-integrated schools funding inequity

A court hearing over state-integrated schools being left out of a $396-million funding package for upgrading state school properties has been delayed for several weeks, reports NZ Catholic.

The funding package was announced in late 2019 but applied only to state schools.

Last year, state-integrated schools’ proprietors filed papers in the High Court seeking a judicial review of Education Minister Chris Hipkins’s decision to leave them out.

The preliminary court hearing was delayed and rescheduled to take place in early March, rather than last month as was originally arranged, New Zealand Catholic Education Office (NZCEO) associate chief executive Paul Ferris (pictured) says.

“The Crown Law office asked to extend the time for the hearing, while they sourced some documents,” he says.

The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools’ view is that the government should have included them in the handout because state-integrated schools are entitled to the money as much as any other state school.

Unlike state schools, however, state-integrated schools can charge attendance dues to cover costs not provided by the state.

Ferris says: “This is not a matter of discretion, this is a legal entitlement that we have under the agreements we have with the government on integration.”

“In the Catholic space, we give the government the use of $2.6 billion dollars worth of property to use rent-free every year and the government agree to maintain it to a similar standard to a similar state school and if they spend it on a state school, they should be spending it on a state-integrated school.”

Back in 2019 Hipkins defended the government’s stand, saying integrated schools were already getting more than $65million to upgrade and modernise buildings, under existing policy for 2020. He also noted integrated school proprietors could charge attendance dues.

The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools’ response was that if other state schools can get double funding in this regard, integrated schools should too. There is an agreement with the Crown that they be treated the same way.

Last year, Hipkins said he was hopeful of finding a solution early in 2021.

Citing lack of funding because of Covid-related issues, Hipkins now says “any initiative to accelerate upgrades of state-integrated schools will now need to be considered as part of decision-making for Budget 2021.”

Ferris says: “We remain committed to the principle that state-integrated schools were to be maintained in an equivalent manner to state schools, and, no matter where the funding is generated from, the Government has an obligation to fund our schools in the same way.

“Covid responsibilities continue to focus on the minister.

“This makes the wider education sector appear to take second place to the challenges created by his duties with Covid management.”

A statement of defence from the Education Minister was filed last year, in response to the schools’ court action.

The NZCEO indicated last year that after negotiations, the Ministry of Education “recommended the settlement we had worked towards.”


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