Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

Donations and school fees

Can state schools charge fees?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 33

No. Every New Zealand citizen or permanent resident is guaranteed free enrolment and free education from their fifth birthday until the end of the year that they turn 19.

The school can only charge for activities or things that are optional, and for items that students make at school but get to take home and keep.

What are school donations?

School donations are voluntary payments towards running the school and providing additional services for learners. Schools can suggest an amount for the annual donation.

Schools can’t ask for donations if they are part of the donation scheme (see below).

Schools should make it clear that the donation is optional, and that you don’t have to pay it. Unfortunately, some schools use the term “fee” or even “levy” to describe the voluntary donation, which makes it seem like whānau have to pay it – this is wrong.

Schools can’t treat you and your family unfairly for choosing not to pay the suggested amount. For example, schools can’t insist that the donation be paid before they’ll confirm your enrolment at the school.

If you pay the donation, you should be given a receipt which states that it’s a donation. The donation will qualify for an income tax return. The school shouldn’t include GST in any amount that is a donation because schools don’t have to pay GST on voluntary contributions.

What is the donation scheme?

From 2020, decile 1-7 state and state-integrated schools and kura can choose to receive $150 per student from the government each year. If your school opts-in, the board can’t ask parents or guardians for donations (except for school camps).

If your school doesn’t opt in, the school can still ask for donations. The school won’t get the extra funding from the government.

For more information, go to www.education.govt.nz and search “fees, charges and donations”

Can the school charge fees for course materials?

It depends. You shouldn’t be charged for the cost of teaching or materials used to deliver the school curriculum (like printing costs).

Schools can charge for materials if the end-product belongs to the student. For example, materials for subjects with practical skills (like clothing and workshop technology). You should be made aware that there are costs for materials at the start of the year.

If you’re uncertain or disagree about whether an activity is part of the school curriculum, you can contact the Ministry of Education about it.

Can the school charge “activity fees” for activities and events?

It depends if the activity is part of the curriculum or not. “Activity fees” are for events or activities like field trips, school camps, and concerts.

If an activity is part of the curriculum (e.g. a geography field trip for a Year 11 assessment), the school:

  • can’t charge an activity fee
  • can’t exclude you from an activity if you can’t or don’t pay a donation
  • can ask you to pay a voluntary donation towards any travel costs associated with the activity
  • can ask you to make a voluntary donation towards the cost of a school camp (even if the school has opted into the donation scheme).

If the event or activity isn’t part of the curriculum (e.g. a trip to see a play, or visit a local playground), the school:

  • can exclude students who haven’t paid the ticket price or travel cost
  • can’t send students home during the activity and must provide them with another activity and supervision
  • must tell parents or guardians in advance of any fees related to the activity
  • may also ask for advance payment for optional activities during the year but can’t insist on this.

Parents or guardians must be given the opportunity to agree to pay the charges.

If you can’t afford an activity fee for take-home course materials or for optional activities, you should contact the school principal. In some cases, you may be able to make a payment plan with the school. You may also want to explore other avenues, such as an advance on your benefit from Work and Income.

Can integrated schools charge fees?

Education and Training Act 2020, sched 6, cl 30

Integrated schools can charge a compulsory fee – called an “attendance due”. This can’t be more than the amount approved by the Minister of Education.

These fees should also be clearly set out in any prospectus or enrolment information. Attendance dues can be used only to improve school buildings and facilities or to pay for debts or mortgages that the school has on the school’s land or buildings. The school can’t charge interest on unpaid dues.

Can I be refused a copy of the school magazine if my school donation isn’t paid?

Some items, including school magazines, may be funded entirely through donations and not through the Ministry of Education. Schools have a right to not provide these items if you don’t pay donation.

Can I be refused a student ID card if my school donation isn’t paid?

This depends. Some schools fund their student ID cards entirely from school donations, so they might be able to refuse to issue a card if the donation isn’t paid. However, the school should take into account that refusing to issue an ID card could have serious consequences for you – for example, not being able to use the school library or get a student pass for public transport.

It may be possible to work out a compromise – for example, you might be able to pay for the cost of the ID card alone.

If I owe the school money, can they refuse to give me a school report or leaving certificate?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 165

The school could be breaking the law if it withholds a school report to “encourage” you to pay the school donation, or any money owed to the school. Schools are legally required to report on your progress and achievement to you and your parents or guardians.

The school can refuse to release your leaving certificate if you owe money on your account, but not for unpaid donations.

School leaving certificates are different from school reports. They record things like whether you have returned borrowed school items, owe money on your account, or have been taken off the school roll.

You can also make specific requests under the privacy and information laws for all other information that the school holds about you. For more information, see “Getting information from the school

Dealing with debt collectors hired by the school

The school board can take steps to receive money if it believes you owe money to the school. This includes hiring a debt collection agency.

First check that this “debt” is actually something you’re required to pay. You can’t be required to pay the school donation. It is a voluntary contribution, even if the school describes it as the “school fee”.

The school can hire debt collectors to recover money that you do owe – for example:

  • for the cost of lost or damaged library books
  • costs for additional events or activities (like school camps) that you’ve agreed to pay.

If you disagree that you owe the debt, or with the amount the school is claiming, write to both the debt collection agency and the school as soon as possible.

If you can’t come to an agreement, ask for help from YouthLaw or your nearest Community Law Centre.

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Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

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