An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing has opened with a call for Kohanga Reo not to be managed by the Ministry of Education.
Kohanga Reo, aimed at ensuring the survival of the Maori language, began in 1982. It is a total immersion programme for young children from birth to six years old.
The Kohanga Reo Trust Board says rules governing mainstream pre-school centres should not be imposed on Kohanga.
The claim before the Tribunal says the Government treats the Maori language centres for pre-schoolers under rules that apply to early childhood education generally.
But supporters say Kohanga Reo are whanau-based organisations that the Government is obliged to support under the principle of partnership between the Crown and Maori.
In its submission on Monday, the trust told the tribunal funding by the Government has fallen by 200% and numbers have fallen due to mainstreaming.
The trust wants specific legislation to give whanau greater control, as opposed to being under the Ministry of Education.
The hearings are set down for the next two weeks.