Budget 2023: 300 new classrooms, four new schools to be funded, Government announces

Budget 2023 will fund 300 new classrooms, creating 6600 new student spaces, the Government has announced.

Money is also being pumped into the education infrastructure fund pipeline to support the construction of up to four new schools and school expansions, the first two of which will be in Auckland and Papamora.

At a pre-Budget announcement at Ridgway School in Wellington on Monday morning, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said the targeted funding was intended to address underfunding, overcrowding and decay in schools and classrooms.

The 300 new classrooms will both ease existing pressures while accounting for future population growth, Hipkins said.

"That creates 6,600 new student spaces to ease the pressure on school rolls, both in the short term with the immediate establishment of 2,200 places, and in the long term, with funding for a further 4,400 places to account for future roll growth.  

"Targeted funding of $300 million from Budget 2023 will fund this further to support the sector's needs, with $200 million for permanent roll growth, and $100 million to address shorter-term pressures on school rolls."

An additional $100 million is then going into enabling the construction of up to four new schools and new school expansions. One will be in central Auckland, another will be in Papamoa, and the other two will be announced shortly. 

Asked why the Government was using the "up to four" language, Education Minister Jan Tinetti said: "Four is a target that we are working towards, but we have to make certain that we are within the budgets we have set down".

Hipkins said this adds to 16 schools opened under this Government. He said that since taking power in 2017, the Government had funded more than 2700 new classrooms to create 60,000 more student places. More than 1500 of those classrooms have been finished, Hipkins said.

Tinetti said classrooms that are "modern, warm, dry and fit for purpose" make teaching easier and provide a more comfortable environment for students. This helps to improve attendance and achievement, she said.

"I have seen some of our aging, damp and cold classrooms up close, in fact I've taught in them. And it's frankly not good enough. Previous governments may have been OK with that but we're not," Tinetti said. 

"We want kids to look forward to coming to school and spending time in class, and parents to know their children are safe, well, and working to unlock their full potential."

National education spokesperson Erica Stanford responded to the announcement on Monday by saying the new classrooms will sit empty if the Government doesn't address "dire levels of school attendance". 

"New classrooms are always necessary as the population grows," she said. "But the biggest concern in education is that only half of all students are attending school regularly."

Last week, Newshub revealed that despite promising 82 new attendance officers with a $74 million package, only one had started work months on. Tinetti blamed her officials, saying there "seems to be excuses all the time". The Education Minister on Monday said there were now three working. 

Further announcements are expected on Budget Day on Thursday with regard to investment in education infrastructure to support Kaupapa Māori and Māori medium education sectors.

On Sunday, Tinetti announced Budget 2023 would put $31 million towards covering the immediate costs of returning schools affected by the recent North Island weather events to working order. Another $85 million has been allocated to longer-term repair or relocation work.