31 Oct 2015

Charter school interest a 'vote of confidence'

4:21 pm on 31 October 2015

The board that vets applications for new charter schools says it is not surprised at seeing so many applications.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru.

Northland charter school Te Kura Hourua ki Whangaruru. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The authorisation board said 25 organisations had applied to set up more of the publicly funded private schools to open in 2017.

It said much of the interest was from educators and community groups representing Māori and Pasifika people, and most of the applications were from the North Island.

The board's chair, Catherine Isaac, said the level of interest reflected confidence in the charter school system and showed it worked well.

"We do see it as a vote of confidence in a policy that is connecting innovators with disadvantaged students whose needs are not being met by the existing state school system."

Ms Isaac said the board would evaluate the proposals over the next two months and announce its decisions by next year.

Criticism of low rolls

For the second year in a row, the government has funded charter schools for more students than they actually have.

This year the Education Ministry has been paying the seven of the schools for 669 students, but September enrolment figures showed they had only about 490.

ACT's David Seymour is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Education and with some responsibility for charter schools - a policy initiative the ACT Party helped introduce in 2011.

He said charter school funding would be reduced over time. Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, in Whangaruru, Northland, was one of the original five charter schools and was funded for a guaranteed minimum of 70 students.

The charter school about a week before opening in February.

Whangaruru charter school about a week before opening. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

"They have not done well retaining students in their first year and their guaranteed minimum role has been dropped to 40, so they're funded for 40," Mr Seymour said.

Educational Institute president Louise Green said paying charter schools for more students than they had was not on.

She said they were being set up where there was spare capacity in local classrooms.

"That effectively means that dollars are being taken out of school coffers and those are the very same schools that are crying out for extra resources to support kids with real needs."

Charter schools are getting between just under $10,000 and $40,000 a year per student, compared to an average of about $7000 for state school students.

The new charter schools were falling short of enrolments because most people were happy with their local state school, Ms Green said.

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