Educational vandalism – night-school funding slashed

Have you ever done a night school class at a local secondary school? If the answer’s yes then you’re in good company. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have expanded their interests, tried new things or built up skills for a new job via night classes at their local high school.

 The classes, called Adult and Community Education or ACE by the government, include such things as car maintenance, healthy cooking, quilting, budgeting, ballroom dancing, computing skills, yoga and a hundred and one others. What makes these courses so popular and accessible are government subsidies which keep the costs low.

 But night school is now under a death sentence from an 80% cut in government funding in the budget. In one slash-and-burn move the government has ended its commitment to life-long learning and displayed its contempt for what the Minister derides as just “hobby” classes.

 It was a neat cover-up on budget night. The government painted education as a winner because overall education funding increased by 2.9 percent from $10.5 billion to $10.8 billion. Not bad in the teeth of a developing recession. However most of the extra spending was for capital development for new schools and what was hidden from view was a wide range of savage cuts in all areas of public education.

 The funding cuts for ACE are particularly harsh and it is here that the greatest community impact will be felt. Funding for these programmes in the tertiary sector has been almost halved while the subsidies high school night classes have been slashed by four fifths.

 The sector is rightly angry and determined to fight the cuts. Community Learning Association in Schools (CLASS) President, Maryke Fordyce, says over 200,000 adults enrol in Adult and Community Education (ACE) courses every year and these funding cuts “will change the landscape of community learning as we know it”. She says the association is devastated by the likely impact of the cuts on communities.

 The 212 high schools involved employ a part-time co-ordinator each and between them the schools employ some 15,000 tutors. All this is now under threat and its not just hobby courses which will be affected. For example Maryke points out that schools are required to use at least 9.5 percent of their ACE funding to fund programmes provided by community groups and this includes assistance for refugees and migrants, preparing healthy food, anti-violence courses and courses for Maori and Pacifica communities.

 Moana Papa is the ACE co-ordinator at Tangaroa College in the Auckland suburb of Otara. She says “we are devastated as National want to go to a user pays system. Any hobby courses will no longer be subsidised by the government. e.g. $45 sewing course will be $135 in 2010. Communities like Otara will suffer – no one will be able to afford to come to ACE courses”

 ACE co-ordinator at Napier’s Colenso High School, Maxine Boag, says in Hawkes Bay this year some $50,000 is being spent on classes run by Women’s Refuge, the Napier Family Centre, Napier Parents’ Centre, Pukemokimoki Marae and a Drivers Licence course in Samoan.

 When he was in opposition National’s Finance Minister Bill English was strongly supportive of night school: “For more than 50 years, night classes have provided a leg-up for people wanting to return to the education system. National supports these low-cost courses. The current system of night classes through schools works well and should not be tampered with”. This political cant comes from the man who is now cutting the $16 million government subsidy to just $3 million.

 The value for money of these courses isn’t in question. A report prepared in 2007 by Price Waterhouse Coopers for the Adult Community Education organization in New Zealand concluded the estimated national economic gain of this type of adult education is in the range of $4.8 billion to $6.3 billion. Not bad for a government investment of just $16 million per year.

 Remember this is a government which found $35 million extra to increase the subsidy for the privileged who attend private schools but can’t maintain just half that amount for night schools to benefit the entire community.

 Budget documents spell out bluntly the effects of the cuts: “It is likely that there will be only a small number of schools receiving ACE funding for 2010 and beyond”

 If enough people are angry and let their local MPs know then the government will reinstate this funding. If you don’t do it for yourself, make a call to your MP or send a letter on behalf of your friends, family and neighbours who may be learning Moroccan cooking or how to manage the family budget in a recession.

 Do your bit to stop Bill English’s irresponsible act of community vandalism.