NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New Zealand Experiments With School Choice

July 13, 2001

New Zealand has maintained a comprehensive chool choice system for more than a decade. The results of their efforts are instructive for the school choice debate in the U.S.

Before reforms were implemented, the centralized bureaucracy of the Ministry of Education made all the rules and controlled all the expenditures related to education policy in New Zealand. Parents had little influence and there was little accountability.

Today, education in New Zealand is still fully funded by the central government from general income and consumption tax revenues, and every child is still entitled by law to a tax-supported education until completion of secondary school.

  • Now parents have the right to choose any school of their choice for their child -- public or private -- at taxpayer expense.
  • The Ministry of Education only passes block grants to schools based on student enrollment and serves as auditor of school performance; thus, the Ministry has been reduced to about half its former size.
  • Each school now has a Board of Trustees - made up of parents with students at the school - which puts spending decisions into the hands of parents at the school campus level.
  • As a result, 67 cents of each education dollar is spent in the classroom, which is more than double the pre-reform amount.

Private schools can get state funding equivalent to that for public schools, but they must agree to teach the core curriculum. They must also agree to teach students for the required number of days each school year. In exchange, private schools maintain the right to keep their special character, typically religious education or ethics.

Since the implementation of education reform in New Zealand, parents have played a dominant role in the educational choices of their children, learning has improved and classroom size is down.

Source: Matthew Ladner and Rt. Hon. Maurice McTigue, "School Choice in New Zealand: Sixteen Years of Unprecedented Success," May 2001, Children First America, P.O. Box 330, Bentonville, Ark. 72712, (501) 273-6957.


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