"Long overdue" increases for learning support

Learning support has been one of the big Budget winners. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Parents and carers of children with disabilities should find it easier to get educational support for their children following a significant funding boost in the Budget.

The Government has announced what it called "a long overdue boost" for learning support, which will increase in total by more than $272.8 million over four years.

The Ongoing Resource Scheme (ORS), which provides personalised funding for the most disabled students, will receive an extra $133.5 million over five years (starting at $22.3m a year in 2018/19 and rising to just under $44m in 2021/22).

The Government says this will support an extra 1,000 school students from next year.

ORS is a contestable funding scheme, which sees the most disabled students "competing" to prove that their disabilities require ongoing, personalised support. Children with ORS funding have complex learning needs, are often non-verbal and require assistance with toileting and other personal care. Parents and schools have been frustrated at the difficulty of securing funding to support children with challenging needs and severe disabilities in school and to pay for speech therapy, psychologists, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

More funding for teacher aides

Children who do not quality for ORS funding, including those with behavioural difficulties and learning disabilities such as autism and ADHD, as well as those who are simply struggling with the transition to school, may also find it easier to get support.

Funding for teacher aides is to increase by $59.3m over five years.

Unlike ORS, teacher aide funding is not tied to a specific child, and must be shared around by schools between children who need support. Parents have complained of being pressured to pay for teacher aides themselves and of no aide being provided until their child was failing.

The concern for parents and schools is that much of that funding may end up being eaten by expected increases in teacher aide pay. Pressure for pay rises for traditionally poorly paid (and traditionally largely female) school support staff has been growing since the aged care pay equity agreement reached by the previous government.

The Budget also includes extra funding of $30.2m over five years for sensory schools (for students with visual impairments) and New Zealand sign language.

The Te Kahu Toi intensive wraparound service receives an extra $1.2m a year to support an extra 30 students each year.

All these funding boosts are in addition to the $21.5m funding over five years for early intervention services that was announced before the Budget. This will provide an additional 1,900 preschool children with high needs with support.

Robertson, questioned during the Budget lock-up, conceded that a 1.6 percent increase in the cost adjustments for schools' operational grants was slightly less than recent Budgets (although still up on last year's). But he pointed to the increased funding for special needs as addressing one of the causes of pressures on schools' operational costs, and said he believed schools would be pleased with that approach.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said learning support funding had been "inadequate for more than a decade". He said the Budget initiatives more than tripled the operational spending and would go a long way toward addressing demand pressures.

Costs rise for ESOL

But, thanks to high migration, demand pressures have been growing in another area.

The Budget also includes $34.5m in funding for support for students with English as a second language. The Government will spend $1.27m on ESOL in 2018/2019 but this will rise to $12.6m in 2021/22.