Some Kohanga Reo teachers say they are being overloaded with regulations, and a move to self management is needed to save the pre-schools from a slow death.
An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing into the running of the centres began on Monday, and will run for the next two weeks.
Te Kohanga Reo Trust says its pre-schools are not early childhood centres, yet under the Ministry of Education they are being forced to adopt a mainstream model in line with these centres.
The trust wants a law change, giving Kohanga management independence from the ministry.
A Gisborne based Kohanga Reo teacher, Morehu Potter, who has been part of the Kohanga movement for 30 years, says the current system is not working.
She says Kohanga is vastly different from early childhood centres, in that it teaches young Maori where they came from in relation to their ancestry.
Maori language expert Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy is the first of four people scheduled to give evidence on Tuesday.