Outraged parents are taking to canvas, postcards and the streets to express concerns about funding cuts that they say will leave many unable to afford early childhood education for their children.
Anger about the cuts, which were announced in the Budget and are expected to affect the families of 93,000 children, is building, with parents and many early childhood educators turning to protest action.
This week, 50,000 postcards are being sent to centres around the country for parents to sign and send to the Prime Minister, and Tauranga educators are planning a march for Saturday, August 28, which they hope will attract hundreds of people.
In South Auckland, Finlayson Park Childcare Centre staff and children have created large canvas artworks which parents yesterday wrote messages on and plan to send to representatives of the National, Labour and Maori parties.
The messages included comments such as: "Everybody deserves the best possible start and this is where it begins - early childhood education."
The surge of protest opposes the Government's decision to cut funding for centres where more than 80 per cent of staff are qualified - a move that will affect more than 2000 teacher-led early childhood services.
Many of those centres are expected to have to raise fees by up to $40 a week to cover lost funding - a rise some parents will be unable to afford. Providers say the only other option is to lay staff off or reduce the quality of service.
In making the $400m cut, Education Minister Anne Tolley said the Government had to take into account the rising cost of preschool education to taxpayers given the financial squeeze.
But she has just allocated $4.2 million to build five new centres which will benefit 234 children - mostly Maori, Pasifika and from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are less likely to undergo preschool education.
The NZ Educational Institute teachers union, which is campaigning for 100 per cent quality in early childhood education, said although the new centres were welcomed, the Government was "giving on one hand and taking away with the other".
"For the Education Minister to say that this extra grant money is great news for families who want their children to enjoy high-quality early childhood education is outright hypocrisy, when the Government is removing quality education for the vast majority of children who are already participating," said NZEI vice-president Judith Nowotarski. Finlayson Park Childcare Centre supervisor Julie Brice said staff of her centre in Manurewa were 92 per cent fully qualified.
As a result, it will lose an estimated $40,000 a year when the funding cuts come into force - effectively one staff member's pay for a year.
The centre already fundraised once a term to survive and would never be able to ask its parents - many of whom are on benefits or already receiving subsidies to help with childcare - to pay any more as they just wouldn't have it. Ms Nowotarski hoped the Government would listen to the centre's concerns - expressed in the canvas paintings - and change its mind about the funding cuts.
Simone Katavich, whose 14-month-old son Madden attends the centre, said she was "really disappointed" by the funding cuts and believed they would affect the quality of care for her son.
"I think early childhood education is really important and I think it [the cutback] just puts a lot of extra pressure and strain on the [staff]."