NZ Election 2020: Judith Collins relays 'absolute anger' from New Plymouth schools over Green School funding

Judith Collins has met with schools in New Plymouth who she says have expressed "absolute anger" over the Government signing off on $11.7 million for the privately-run Green School in Taranaki. 

The National Party leader met with the principals of Marfell Community School and New Plymouth Boys' High School on Monday, and Collins said both schools are "suffering" from a deficit of infrastructure. 

"What was really clear is the absolute anger amongst the school principals and the school communities about the $11.7 million that has been promised by the Government to this thing called a Green School," Collins said on Tuesday. 

Marfell Community School is a decile 1 school and Collins said the principal spends four out of five days a week trying to fundraise because parents don't have any extra money. She said the school is reliant on pokie funds and that the principal had to make the curtains. 

"They are looking at this Green School, a private school, and wondering what is going on with the Government and they certainly did not expect that would happen," Collins said. 

Newshub revealed on Monday that the Green School, set up by Rachel and Michael Perrett who made their wealth selling HRV systems, hosted a 'sacred ceremony' run by a school parent who believes COVID-19 is a manufactured natural disaster.  

The parents also planned a $15,000 tour of New Zealand that included planting crystals with the school's students. 

"Independent schools do have more choice over their curriculum but I certainly found that in New Plymouth there's possibly not a huge amount of support for growing crystals and planting them, I thought that was a doozy," Collins said. 

"It's an interesting one."

The Green School, which charges fees of up to $43,000 a year, 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, and it 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. 

Finance Minister Grant 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. 

Collins said if there is no contract then the Government should "cancel everything now" but if there is a contract the Government will "have to explain to the people of New Zealand why they thought this was such a great thing". 

She wants to see Treasury advice on it. 

The National Party revealed on Monday a multibillion-dollar plan to fast-track school repairs and upgrades over the next 10 years by forming an "alliance" with the private sector. 

If elected, National would invest $2 billion in a 'Fix New Zealand Schools Alliance' that will bring together builders, educators, architects and engineers to work with the Government to improve school infrastructure.  

The $2 billion alliance budget would be part of $4.8 billion committed over the next decade for education infrastructure. The remaining $2.8 billion would be allocated for new spending to fully fund the first 10 years of the plan. 

National's education spokesperson Nicola Willis said schools like Marfell need the funding more than the privately-run Green School.  

"We don't want to be like the Government who clearly did not do due diligence on the Green School, who clearly did not create a fair, contestable process, so we won't be signing contracts today," she said on Tuesday. 

"But what we are doing is providing a significant sum of additional funding - $2 billion over five years - and we are very confident that projects that need to happen, such as those at Marfel School, will qualify, and not only will we fund them but we will get them done faster."

Shaw is holding a press conference at midday to provide an update on funding for the Green School.