Government plans to cap the number of fee-paying foreign students will be opposed by state schools which fear the move would slash their incomes.
Secondary schools, in particular, rely on income from foreign students. Some are threatening to ignore government attempts to cap their numbers, saying they cannot afford to lose the extra money.
Schools typically charge about $(NZ)10,000 a year (pound;3,229) for students from countries such as China, Korea, Japan and Thailand. At some schools they make up 10 to 15 per cent of the total roll.
Foreign students bring in more cash for 1,050-pupil Owairoa primary in Auckland than it receives in government funding. Its 140 students generate up to $1 million a year. It receives $640,000 from the state.
Education minister Trevor Mallard said the number of foreign students is set to be capped in 2004 because of concerns over the effects on staffing and other students.
The number of foreign students in secondaries has soared from 10,000 to 15,000 over the past year, while in primaries it doubled from 1,823 to 3,182 last July.
Schools have been grossly under-funded for years, said Russell Trethewey, chair of the Principals Council of the secondary teachers' union, the Post Primary Teachers' Union.
He said latest government figures showed that 43.9 per cent of secondary schools' operational income was from non-government sources (if the component for staff salaries is removed), with fee-paying students making up at least two-thirds of this income.
The cap could be about 5 per cent but the critical issue will be whether this is on a per-school regional or national basis, as foreign students are concentrated in urban areas.
A spokeswoman for Mr Mallard said the minister was still looking at ways to introduce the freeze.
The plan has the support of the primary teachers' union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, which is concerned about teacher supply and the effects on children.
Issues have also arisen over a lack of pastoral care for some students, and some have voiced fears that too many foreign students in a school dilutes the cultural experience of living in New Zealand.
Schools have conducted advertising and recruitment drives overseas with the backing of the government until now. Schools arrange home-stays for the foreign students with local families.
Mr Trethewey said a cut in the numbers of foreign students would meet strong opposition. "There are likely to be schools challenging that directive or just carrying on and doing it," he said.