26 May 2017

Budget 'dismal' for early childhood sector

9:00 am on 26 May 2017

Parents will face increased creche fees or lower quality education after the government's "dismal" Budget, early childhood education (ECE) groups say.

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Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said the budget was simply unacceptable (file photo). Photo: 123RF

Yesterday's Budget raised government spending in the sector by $386 million over the next four years, but nearly all of that money was for an expected increase in enrolments.

There was also $10m a year to extend the government's new method of targeting funding for disadvantaged students to the early childhood sector.

Education groups welcomed that increase, which the government said would be worth an average of $5000 a year to about 2000 of the 4500 licensed early childhood services eligible for the money.

But they were bitterly disappointed the budget had no across-the-board increase to the government's per-child hourly subsidies for early childhood education.

Early Childhood New Zealand chief executive Kathy Wolfe said the budget was simply unacceptable.

"The fact that there's been no increase in funding rates for this budget round really sends a strong signal that National just do not value ECE," she said.

"It's quite dismal really."

Ms Wolfe said the lack of increased funding would hurt the sector.

"The risk is early childhood services will either employ less qualified teachers so they don't pass on costs to parents or parents are just going to pay more."

'It just doesn't seem fair' - NZEI

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said the sector had not had an increase in real terms since 2008.

"As a result the average childcare service is losing round about $105,000 since 2011 by our calculation. Certainly as a result of the announcement today they've lost $15,000 straight off the bat," he said.

"It's not a rosy picture for childcare centres."

Mr Reynolds said services were under pressure and they could not always raise fees in order to keep pace with rising costs.

He said some services knew their families could not afford to pay any fees at all.

"They've got to survive off the subsidies the government pays," Mr Reynolds said.

Lynda Stuart, the president of teachers' union the Educational Institute (NZEI), said the $10 million a year in new funding for about 33,000 children would not help alleviate under-funding of the sector.

"As far as all of the other children involved in early childhood services ... there's actually nothing in there for them," she said.

"It just doesn't seem fair."

Ms Stuart said most of the funding for schools was for growing enrolments and it did not leave them better off.

Funding does not go far enough - PPTA

The president of the Post Primary Teachers Association, Jack Boyle, said there was precious little for schools in the budget.

He said the 1.3 percent increase to schools' operations funding was an admission that it was a bad idea last year to freeze operations grant funding in order to introduce a new pool of targeted funding for disadvantaged children.

"So you know, a step in the right direction after a mis-step last budget, but not far enough and I think that's a pretty good analogy for the whole of the education spend this time around and that's unfortunate," Mr Boyle said.

Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said he was happy the budget had provided an extra $36 million dollars over the next four years for children with behaviour problems.

But he said he had been hoping for a bigger increase to schools' operations grants.

"Our colleagues are telling me that it is increasingly difficult to be able to run a budget that enables schools to do everything that needs to happen in terms of helping our young people to progress."

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