While the early childhood education (ECE) sector has praised initiatives in yesterday’s Budget to support services with children from benefit-dependent households and children with special learning needs, representative bodies say overall the funding package is tantamount to a cut, due to it not keeping pace with inflation.
In announcing the education Budget, Education Minister Nikki Kaye highlighted a boost in operating funding for early childhood education providers, which will see a further 31,000 early leaning places over the next four years. There is also $35.5 million over four years flagged to support children most at risk of under achievement.
Kathy Wolfe, Chief Executive of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand (ECNZ), said that the Budget merely met the cost of increases to the numbers of children enrolled in early childhood services.
“The $350.5m announced over four years sounds like a lot, but only accounts for the simple fact that there are more children attending ECE as our population grows. It does nothing to address the long term funding freeze per child,” says Wolfe.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart says ECE teachers must be “gutted” by the seventh straight year of freezes on per-child funding.
“Services have been closing, changing hours, reducing qualified staff and everything possible to stay afloat. They simply can’t tighten their belts any further. This is going to further hit quality or parents’ pockets.”
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds described the approach as ‘potentially very damaging’.
“At the same time as more families are committing their children to early childhood education earlier and for longer periods of time, the government is implementing a cynical policy of funding cuts by stealth that is eating away at family incomes and putting service quality at risk.”