Nervous Budget wait for educators

By Elizabeth Binning

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian leckie. Photo / APN
New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian leckie. Photo / APN

There is plenty of apprehension within the education sector as Budget Day draws near.

While schools and early childcare organisations have their wish lists, most are realistic that this Budget comes on the back of a recession and the Christchurch earthquake - factors which mean there probably won't be too much to celebrate on Thursday.

The early childhood sector is simply hoping for the status quo to remain - many centres were badly hit by last year's Budget and cannot afford further cuts.

NZ Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said she would like to see cuts from last year reversed and new money to allow an increase in child-carer ratios for under-2s.

"I suppose our most optimistic guess might be that things might stay reasonably the same until the Taskforce [which is undertaking a full review of the sector] comes out."

While there were "always worries" about changes to the 20-Hours Free funding, Ms Bell said the sector was concerned families would be indirectly hit by cuts to other areas, such as Working For Families, or increases in KiwiSaver contributions.

"We suspect there is going to be some policy changes that impact on early childhood without being directly related to early childhood funding.

"Employers are worried it's going to drive their costs up and if they don't see some lift in their funding then they will be either struggling or passing on costs to parents."

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said optimists were hoping for reinvestment in the sector.

"The realistic view is that I suspect they will pretty much leave early childhood education alone, having been fairly virulent in their approach to [it] last year.

"I guess if there is a concern in terms of what the Budget may hold it is that the Government is lining up Working For Families and we have some concern about that because it will impact on early childhood education."

New Zealand Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said any cuts to the education budget were unacceptable. "We would remind, and expect, the Government to treat education as an investment and not a cost.

"Absolutely no more early childhood cuts. We know [last year's cuts] have pushed fees up by about 11 per cent and it is hurting parents. It is keeping some children out of early childhood [centres]."

Mr Leckie said schooling operational costs had continued to rise and that needed to change.

New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association president Robin Duff said that while there had been talk of increases to the education budget, so much had been stripped out in recent years that the important question now was "How much is coming back in?"

- NZ Herald

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