A government review of special education has indicated that the amount of special education funding spent in the school sector would be reduced while funding for the early childhood sector would be increased.
"Analysis of the spend by the age range of the recipient indicates that a disproportionate amount of the funds are for school-age children. This is despite clear evidence in some areas that early support can have greater benefits in terms of educational outcomes," states the Cabinet paper from Education Minister Hekia Parata.
The NZEI Te Riu Roa has welcomed the increased focus on early intervention for toddlers and children who need extra learning support, but says shifting existing funding from the school sector will simply create new winners and losers among students with additional learning needs unless there is more investment in special education.
Labour Party education spokesperson Chris Hipkins agreed.
"More funding for early intervention is a good idea, but that can't be taken from other needy kids. It's got to come from somewhere else in the government's budget, otherwise all they're doing is robbing from one group of vulnerable kids to give to another," he told Radio New Zealand.
NZEI also said more funding and removal of a staffing freeze is needed to address already long waiting lists for young children in early childhood education.
"More than 44 percent of children under five already wait more than 3 months for specialist intervention," NZEI President Louise Green says. "Anecdotally, ECE teachers tell us they are giving up on referring 3-4 year old children for assessment because by the time they receive support they are on their way to school, where they must be re-assessed again."
The Cabinet paper also states that the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) should be reviewed as a priority, particularly how it benefits teenagers as they transition out of school.
The paper also proposed the term “special needs” is phased out as it “can marginalise individuals and create a barrier to a fully inclusive education system”. The terms “learning support” and inclusive education” are favoured instead.