Judicial review sought over school funding package

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Unless a settlement can be reached early next year over integrated schools being left out of a $396million funding package for upgrading state school properties, there will likely be a court hearing early in February, 2021.

A December Lighting New Fires newsletter from the New Zealand Catholic Education Office stated that papers had been filed in the High Court seeking a judicial review of the Education Minister’s decision.

“After negotiating in good faith for nearly a year, the Minister of Education advised in September that, while he was sympathetic to the claim, the Government did not have the funds to make the payment,” the newsletter stated.

“We made a request under the Official Information Act for all the documents between the Ministry of Education and the minister, and we could see that the ministry had negotiated in good faith, and recommended the settlement we had worked towards.”

The $396million funding package was announced in later 2019, but it  applied only to state schools. It was part of a wider package of infrastructure spending.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins told NZ Catholic in 2019 that integrated schools were already getting more than $65 million to upgrade and modernise buildings under existing policy the following year, and that the proprietors can also charge attendance dues. The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools responded that, if other state schools are going to get double their funding in this regard, integrated schools should too, because of an agreement with the Crown that they will be treated the same.

NZ Catholic understands that a statement of defence from the Education Minister has been filed, in response to the court action.

Early this month, Mr Hipkins told Radio New Zealand that he was hopeful of finding a satisfactory solution early in the New Year.

“I remain supportive, in principle, of finding a solution in this area; however, our challenge is being able to fund a solution given the impact of Covid-19 on our country,” he said.

“The Government has decided to set aside the remainder of the Covid Response and Recovery Fund in the event, for example, that New Zealand experiences a further wave of Covid-19. Therefore, any initiative to accelerate upgrades of the state-integrated school portfolio will now need to be considered as part of decision-making for Budget 2021.”

NZCEO spokesman Paul Ferris told NZ Catholic that “the Minister of Education has offered to meet with us in the New Year to see if we can progress the matter. We are looking forward to this opportunity, but in the meantime the court process continues”.

 

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