Why did James Shaw decide the Taranaki Green School was of sufficient merit to prompt him to issue an ultimatum?
. . .Newshub has obtained an email that went to Government ministers and the Treasury from Shaw’s office and it included a stark ultimatum.
“Minister Shaw won’t sign this briefing until the Green School in Taranaki is incorporated.”
The email said Shaw discussed the ultimatum with the Education Minister.
“Minister Shaw has also discussed this one with Minister Hipkins.
“Sorry to be the spanner-in-the-works, but if we can get the project included, he’ll sign everything this afternoon,” the email said. . .
After all the dead rats he and his party have had to swallow in contravention of their policy in the last three years, why on earth would he make such a strong stand over this?
Who leaked the email, and why?
Why did the other Ministers give in to the greenmail?
What does it say about a party leader who didn’t remember his party’s policy against all state funding of private schools and what else has he forgotten about his party policy?
There are more reasons for dismay than immediately strike home with the Green School $11.7million debacle.
Plenty has already been said about the “greenmailing” of James Shaw over signing off on the rest of the $3 billion. The hypocrisy of the move. The passing the buck by the Minister of Finance and Minister of Education. Etc. We then had Chris Hipkins – Minister of Health, Education, State Services and Leader of the House – reverting to nonsense around Charter Schools and stating that at least the Green School kids won’t be learning in shipping containers.
The first missed point of despair is that the entire response to this spend from the perspective of other schools has been around property. One question you can always ask the Boards of dilapidated schools is how have managed their maintenance budget over the last 12 years. If they are honest you will get a range of answers. The second point is that our genuine crisis in education is student achievement and it is not highly correlated to the buildings they learn in (within reason of course). We have gone educationally insane of we think that flash buildings with close the MASSIVE U.E. gaps for Maori and Pasifika (compared to Asian and European) and reverse the decline against international measures. The NCEA results have already started to slide after 2 years under Labour. With the amount of absenteeism currently happening and the level of online engagement for many this year’s results could be a massive disaster for marginalised groups. However – educators are prepared to make a spectacle of themselves for spouting and a dab of paint.
What’s more important, flash buildings or student achievement?
The injustice our Villa Education Trust feels is around a second hidden effect. In the Learning Support Action Plan 2019-2025, Minister Hipkins acknowledged “one in five children and young people need some kind of extra support for their learning. This might be because of disability, learning difficulties, disadvantage, physical or mental health or behaviour issues” and “New Zealanders want an education system where all children and young people can take part in education and can learn and achieve, whatever their needs.”
In the Plan, Minister Hipkins goes on to say “This Government has a vision for an inclusive education system where every child feels a sense of belonging, is present, makes progress, where their wellbeing is safeguarded and promoted, where learning is a lifelong journey, and where children and young people with learning support needs get the right support at the right time.”
During 2019 we took the Minister at his word – as we are – according to all external reviews (e.g. “In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ‘local’ curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ‘many of whom have been failed by the current education system” Cognition Education) Hence we proposed to close our small private school and open a non-zoned, 240 student State Designated Character School, near a transport hub for a wide range of Auckland families to access. The Prime Minister had told the country she wanted more options like this and the “work was being done.”
Our school community has been exceptionally poorly treated by Ministry through a process that, so far, resulted on July 7th with Hipkins saying “no” with him blaming his officials and his officials blaming him.
So – while 25 students benefit by $11.7 million at The Green School … 240 students per year with diverse needs will miss out. To rub salt in Minister Hipkins publicly mocked our efforts in the House yesterday. Class, kindness and compassion.
This whole debacle illustrates the problem with politician’s making individual funding decisions:
The Taxpayers’ Union is calling for the abandonment of grant decision making by politicians and Cabinet committees, and a return to the tradition of these being made by officials using objective and transparent criteria.
The following can be attributed to Jordan Williams, a Spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Union:
“The spectacle of politicians horse-trading individual funding decisions is something we expect to see in smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, not a modern day New Zealand with a reputation of being corruption-free.”
“The Provincial Growth Find, and now the COVID ‘shovel ready’ fund, are normalising a process of decision making that rewards companies which are politically connected. It is a dangerous path.”
“Steven Joyce reintroduced the sort of corporate welfare largess not seen in New Zealand since the Muldoon Government. But instead of fixing the problem, the current Government has doubled down and we have now returned to politicians making funding decisions for individual projects and pet causes.”
“Enough is enough. Now we are seeing the warts and all flaws in the process, New Zealand should return to a transparent process of the politician’s job being limited to setting criteria and objectives, and leaving it to officials to make the individual grant decisions.”
There is a case for Ministers to have a role when decisions are finely balanced.
Treasury opposed the grant:
The Treasury advice to Shaw and the others ministers who signed off on hundreds of projects for infrastructure investment says the Green School does not have “full private school registration” and would be unlikely to get that until mid 2021.
“We believe it would be inappropriate to announce or provide government funding for a project that does not yet have the necessary education approvals,” the advice says.
Furthermore, it says even if it had the “necessary” approvals, “we do not recommend funding for this school”.
Treasury also objected to the project being overseen by the Provincial Development Unit saying it was not the “appropriate agency for this school”. . .
Shaw has accepted responsibility for the debacle but whoever gave into his greenmail is just as culpable.
This isn’t just a waste of money, it’s also a poor reflection on the whole government its processes and priorities:
The murky brinksmanship revealed in the decisions to fund the Green School suggest the $3 billion shovel ready fund is operating like a slush fund by the Government, National’s Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Grant Robertson needs to come clean about the deals being done between Ministers. How is it that one Minister could hold up shovel ready projects unless the Green School was signed off?
“It’s clear the Government doesn’t have its priorities in order. These projects are supposed to be about investing in infrastructure to create jobs and grow our economy.
“But the impression left is that the shovel ready fund is operating as yet another $3 billion slush fund with different projects carved out by Government parties for their political wins.
“No matter how hard he tries, Grant Robertson cannot wipe his hands of this decision. He is the Minister of Finance, it is his job to make sure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. Instead he signed off on a private school receiving millions of taxpayer dollars.
“With the scale of debt-fuelled Government spending right now, it is more important than ever that the Government demonstrates to New Zealanders that decisions are made on the basis of need and effectiveness rather than ‘wins’ for different Government parties.
“The whole episode makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim there is no politics in Covid.
“The Government can’t claim ignorance, Treasury told it not to give any funding to the Green School because it didn’t have the full education approvals needed for a private school.
“Grant Robertson needs to front up and explain exactly what happened and why he’s allowing himself to be held to ransom by his own Associate Minister of Finance.”
Does Grant Robertson need reminding of his own words: that every dollar the government pays out is being borrowed?
What were the merits of the ‘shovel ready’ projects that were put forward for grants and missed out?
It would be difficult to believe that at least some didn’t have a much better cost-benefit ratio than this one.