Hon Heather Roy speech to open applications for Aspire Scholarships; Beehive West Foyer, Parliament, Wellington; Wednesday, September 16 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen.

Education is the greatest gift we can give our children.

During the 2008 election the ACT and National Parties campaigned on greater choice in education.  National committed to widening the education options available to students and promised to:

“work, over time, to increase the education choices available to parents and pupils…”

ACT wanted to give a scholarship to every child so that parents and students would be able to attend the school of their choice.  Today the Government is delivering on those promises.

Today I’m delighted to announce the opening of applications for the Government’s new Aspire Scholarships – 150 scholarships for the 2010 academic year will enable students from low-income families to attend a private school, with that number rising to 250 by 2012.

To enhance school choice and make private schools more affordable Budget 2009 allocated an extra $10 million for Independent Schools, the first increase in funding for this sector since it was capped by the previous government in 2000.  Of this, $7.4 million will be allocated directly to independent schools.

The remaining $2.6 million will fund the Aspire Scholarships, to give more students greater choice and educational opportunities that were not available to them before.

Today, students from low-income families can apply for an Aspire Scholarship; 150 are available for next year – 50 for Year 9 students, 50 for Year 10 and 50 for Year 11.  This will increase to 200 in 2011, and 250 in 2012.

When a student starts at a school they will be funded until they leave, so a student entering Year 9 on an Aspire Scholarship next year will be funded through until they leave that school at Year 13.

Successful applicants will receive up to $15,000 per year to cover the fees of the independent school of their choice.  To cover other school-related costs an allowance will be given of up to $1,500 annually for items such as uniforms and school trips.

To be eligible, students must come from a household with an annual income of under $65,000 and a net worth of less than $150,000.  The $65,000 threshold, which is in line with New Zealand’s median household income, means that 40 percent of households with secondary school-aged children are eligible to apply.

I expect that there will be more students applying than there are scholarships.  To ensure that the process is fair, all eligible students will go in to a randomly-selected ballot.  This year there will be two ballots – one after the first close-off date of October 14 and the second after the final close-off date of October 28.  Successful applicants can then enrol at the independent school of their choice.

The creation of the Aspire Scholarships is no reflection on New Zealand’s State and Integrated Schools.  I would like to be offering a scholarship to every child, but that is not possible at present.  However, this is a great start and Aspire Scholarships widen the choice available to those for whom private schools are not currently an option.

The idea that there is a ‘one size fits all’ education model to suit all children is a myth.  Every child is different and all children have different learning needs and styles.  Parents are best placed to decide the educational opportunities for their children – whether they be at State, Integrated or Independent schools.  I’m delighted to be able to offer this opportunity to 150 Kiwi students for next year.

Nelson Mandela famously said:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

I’m very pleased to be joined today by Victor Vito.

Victor is best known for playing for the Hurricanes and for representing New Zealand in Sevens.  However he is here today because he received a very similar scholarship (under the TIE scheme) to attend Scots College here in Wellington.  I think he would agree with Mandela that education was the weapon that changed his life.