The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was seeking an editor for their Women In Agriculture newsletter.
It could be done from home and a very generous salary was being offered – from memory it was about $20,000 which was a lot of money for a very much part-time job in 1991.
The job description could have been written with me in mind. I had the journalism training and experience, was one of the co-founders of WAg in North Otago and still actively involved with it.
I applied, was short listed, interviewed and offered the position. But the offer came with a proviso that funding continued and the Budget a few weeks later cut it.
That was bad news for me as an individual but as a taxpayer I couldn’t argue for continued funding for something which definitely wasn’t necessary and which, if truth be told, shouldn’t have been publicly funded in the first place.
Nearly two decades later another National budget has put paid to another part time job for me. Teaching Spanish night classes has fallen victim to a change in rules for Adult Community Education (ACE) with funds being redirected towards priority areas of literacy and numeracy.
Again while I’m sorry as an individual I can’t argue against this move as a taxpayer because that would mean trying to justify public funding for private indulgences because these are essentially hobby classes.
I’ve been teaching the classes for four years with a Uruguayan friend. We’ve taken it seriously, spent time preparing lessons, provided notes and done our best in the classroom. We’ve enjoyed it and so have our students but the relative contribution by taxpayers and students was brought home to us this year when we discovered that 20 classes had been advertised when we thought we were only offering 10.
The students had paid $70 for 20 lessons but would get a refund of just $5 if we taught only 10 because most of the costs their fees covered were upfront ones, in particular advertising, and the major on-going cost of our wages came from taxpayers.
The classes were fun for our students and us but when there are so many other more important calls on public funds I couldn’t argue that paying for us to have fun was a priority.
Someone in the first lesson always asked how much they could expect to learn and I brought them down to earth by explaining after two years studying Spanish at university, three months of total immersion classes in Spain and five trips to Argentina to practise I have only an intermediate grasp of the language and a rusty one at that.
Even if the students went over what they’d learned between classes, which few if any ever did, 10 or even 20 two-hour lessons once a week were never going to be able to give them any more than the very basics – especially for those who’d never learned a foreign language before and/or didn’t understand how English worked either.
That’s not to say the classes didn’t have value. Apart from enjoyment, the students learned a little about another language and different cultures, they met new people, used their brains and expanded their horizons. But even so I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that anything they learned or gained could justify taxpayer funding.
There are many important priorities for education which taxes should fund, hobby classes aren’t one of them .
Stargazer sees this differently at The Hand Mirror.
UPDATE: Labour has launched a petition against the changes to ACE funding.
Bill English responded:
“Keeping ACE funding at previous levels would have meant not funding some of the Government’s other priorities such as special education, literacy and numeracy or skills training for the young unemployed.
“Labour, presumably, would just put the extra spending ‘on the credit card’ like everything else it is promising. Labour left behind about $500 million of unfunded tertiary education commitments, which is one of the reasons we’ve had to reassess some existing funding.
“I challenge Maryan Street to show how she would fund ACE at current levels, meet other education priorities, and stay within Budget,” Mr English says.
I’d struggle to make a case for public funding of hobby classes at the best of times let alone now when the country is facing years of deficits.
There is no case now when we’re facing years of deficits and literacy, numeracy and special education are much higher priorities.