Any hope of extra funding to maintain quality standards in the 2015 Budget has disappeared with the announcement of just $74.9 million over four years to cover increased and earlier participation. Centres effectively face a funding cut with no increase in the ECE operations grant to account for inflation.
NZEI President Louise Green said centres would likely be forced to reduce the ratio of qualified teachers, which was bad news for quality early childhood education. Smaller and independent centres will be particularly hard hit as they lack the economies of scale of larger corporate groups. “It is ironic that the government talks about improving the quality of teaching and yet is failing to support quality at such an important time of a child’s life,” said Ms Green.
The Early Childhood Council predicted that Budget 2015 would cost the average early childhood centre about $15,000 in lost revenue every year, and said thousands of parents would be paying more for early childhood education.
CEO Peter Reynolds said the real (after-inflation) rate of government payment for early childhood centres had fallen every year since 2010 and it was clear the government had a long-term strategy to reduce the portion of ECE costs paid by the state.
Nancy Bell, Chief Executive of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ), said that the ECE sector was hurting. “We want to work with Government to raise achievement; participation in quality ECE is integral to this goal. In order to provide quality, services need to provide good teacher-child ratios and to continually invest in the development of their teachers. This is becoming increasingly unaffordable,” she said. ECNZ welcomed a 20% increase (from $4 to $5 per hour) in the Childcare Assistance Subsidy for low-income families. Around 41,000 families and 49,000 children could benefit from this change each year. This is also likely to increase demand for ECE places.
NZ Kindergartens CEO Clare Wells said, “ECE regulations currently require only 50% of staff in a centre-based ECE service to be registered teachers, and there is inadequate funding and support for professional development. “Although kindergarten is committed to every teacher being qualified, this is not the case across the ECE sector. This is not good enough if we are serious about lifting the quality of teaching and learning for every child.”
The Good News
The good news is that parents and the wider community are starting to understand the importance of quality ECE, and there is growing disquiet about the impact of large corporate players in the sector. The idea that ECE should not be a vehicle for making shareholder profits is gaining traction.
We believe the influence of large corporate ECE businesses needs to be halted before the non-profits and quality independent centres are forced by financial constraints to reduce quality or are driven out completely.
Let’s talk to our colleagues and parents, educate and inform, and start building demand for change. A properly funded state-led system that puts quality first is what our kids deserve.