NZ Election 2020: Multi-million dollar funding for private Green School in Taranaki going ahead despite backlash

Millions of dollars in funding for the private Green School in Taranaki is still going ahead despite backlash as National Party leader Judith Collins hits out at the "appalling situation". 

Green School New Zealand, a privately-owned school which sits between New Plymouth and Oakura, has been given funding as part of the Government's $3 billion set aside for infrastructure in the COVID-19 recovery fund.

The Taranaki school, set up by Rachel and Michael Perrett who made their wealth selling HRV systems, charges fees of up to $43,000 a year and it is getting a cash injection of $11.7 million from the Government to help it expand. 

Green Party co-leader James Shaw advocated for the funding as a 'shovel-ready project' in his role as Associate Finance Minister. It has upset former Green MPs such as Catherine Delahunty, who said on Twitter "we don't need shovel-ready privilege". 

The funding is at odds with the Green Party's policy to phase out funding for private schools, and Shaw told Newshub he "probably would have taken a second look" in hindsight. 

But Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed on Friday the funding will still go ahead despite the backlash because he believes the Government should keep its word.  

"I can understand that there are people who perhaps don't like it or would rather the decision was changed. But I think the Government's got to act in good faith here with an applicant and so I've got no intention to do that," Robertson said. 

Kealy Warren, acting principal of New Plymouth's Marfell School, wrote a scathing letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying she could not fathom how Green School was given the funding when there are other schools "screaming out for money" to fix leaky classrooms. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has no plans to pull funding for the private Green School in Taranaki despite backlash.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson has no plans to pull funding for the private Green School in Taranaki despite backlash. Photo credit: Getty

National leader Judith Collins said it's an "appalling" situation. 

"James Shaw has, with his Associate Finance hat on, made an extraordinarily hypocritical decision. It's just rank hypocrisy having campaigned against independent schools," she said on Friday. 

Robertson said the funding was signed off as part of 150 shovel-ready projects the Government approved to help stimulate the economy. He said the funding is separate from the funding that goes to the education sector. 

"It is a construction project. We need to separate that out from the fact that there is obviously a need for support for educational resources and in the Taranaki region," Robertson said. 

"I can absolutely understand that if you're in a school and you're looking at that and saying, 'Well, why didn't we apply for that?' They're two different areas, they're two different processes.

"Overall, we've put in $1.6 billion into making sure that we keep our schools upgraded and deal with deferred maintenance and start building new schools. This was being treated as a construction project; it was assessed by independent assessors, and then approved by ministers."

Included in that $1.6 billion was $400 million announced in December last year for public school property development, and Robertson said about $11.5 million went towards maintenance.

"I am very, very proud of our record in education spending," Robertson said. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday the funding was not something he would have prioritised for the education sector and said the funding for Green School was something the Greens wanted.  

"Ultimately, that was something the Green Party advocated quite strongly for and so it was one of their wins, if you like, out of the shovel-ready projects area," he said. "It's not necessarily a project that I would've prioritised."

Green School CEO Chris Edwards has thanked Shaw for his support. 

"This funding - for which we are profoundly grateful - not only allows us to add to the livelihoods of many in our community through job creation, but in attracting new families to the school, it will continue to allow Taranaki to flourish as a thriving economy." 

Shaw said the school has attracted students from throughout New Zealand and all over the world, and said it brought huge benefits for the local economy and broader export earnings. 

"International education was until recently New Zealand's fourth largest export sector. It is obviously going through a very tough time right now as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic," Shaw said. 

"This project not only secures 200 jobs in the near term, it also creates additional capacity for the time when people are able to travel more freely, enabling Taranaki to develop a thriving international education opportunity."