Labour promises to extend free school lunches to a quarter of Kiwi kids if returned to power

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Labour is promising to extend the Free and Healthy School Lunches programme to a quarter of New Zealand's children. 

The Government rolled out the free lunch trial programme last year across 30 schools. By July 2020, 600,000 lunches had been served in 60 schools to 13,000 students.

"The Free and Healthy Lunches in School programme which has already been rolled out to more than 8000 students will continue to be expanded to around 200,000 students in 2021, targeting the students in schools with the highest disadvantage," Labour's education spokesperson Chris Hipkins said. 

The party also wants to close the pay gap for teachers working in early childhood education (ECE), care centres and kindergartens.

"The new initiatives we’re committing to at this election is budgeted at $1.7b including $600m for early childhood education and care teachers’ pay parity," Hipkins said. 

"If re-elected, Labour will ensure all 17,000 teachers working in education and care centres are paid what they deserve," Hipkins said. 

"A significant pay gap has built up over time."

"We will also scrap the blunt and outdated decile system and replace it with the Equity Index for schools (from 2022) and early learning services."

This was already announced last September by Hipkins as Education Minister, saying at the time that  school deciles would be replaced in 2021 or 2022 by an Equity Index "that better aligns equity funding to actual levels of socio-economic disadvantage in our schools".

"The Equity Index increases the resources going to some of our most disadvantaged students and communities. It will assess the level of disadvantage in a school or early learning service by considering the whole student population."

"Once it’s fully implemented, the new funding system is expected to involve additional funding of $75 million per year, across schooling and early learning," Hipkins said today.

The previous Government attempted to replace deciles with a Risk Index  that then-Education Minister Nikki Kaye said would allow schools to receive better targeted funds to help disadvantaged students.

The party also conceded on its 2017 election promise of three fees free years of tertiary study, which was supposed to be phased in from 2019 with full implementation in 2025. 

"Labour will retain the first year of the fees-free programme, but not extend the programme into additional fees-free years," Hipkins said.

"We will be targeting our additional tertiary education spending in areas that are critical for the country’s economic recovery in the post-Covid environment.

"Initiatives such as free apprenticeships and targeted areas of vocational training will be prioritised, supported by the reform of the Vocational Education System which we will be completing if re-elected."

In 2019,  almost $200 million of the Government's tertiary fees-free funding  was to be spent elsewhere due to enrollment numbers not hitting estimates.