The 20 hours of free care children 3 and over receive in early childhood centres is under review, despite the Government's election promise that it would not cut or change the popular scheme.
Education Minister Anne Tolley established an independent taskforce this month to review the effectiveness of spending in the early childhood education sector and propose innovative ideas about learning.
Questioned this week in Parliament about whether funding for the 20-hours scheme would be exempt from the review, she replied: "No, but this Government promised to retain the subsidies and fee controls that make up 20 hours' early childhood services."
When pushed on what would happen if the taskforce recommended making changes to the scheme, Mrs Tolley said she could not anticipate the outcome of the review.
That leaves several possible options. One is that the scheme might change if the taskforce recommends it.
Another is the taskforce could advise changes only to find its recommendations are a waste of time if the Government sticks to its election pledge.
Labour's early childhood education spokeswoman, Sue Moroney, who raised questions in Parliament about the scheme, said the fact that 20 hours was part of the review meant it was "all up in the air" and "yet another betrayal of that election promise".
"If they were determined to leave 20 hours in its current state then that's exactly what she would have done - she would have exempted the funding for 20 hours from consideration. But she has ... not."
NZ Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said the review was "definitely a cost-cutter". The only question was how.
"People's costs rise, so even if there is no new money it's going to be an exercise in savings - I think basically passing on more costs to parents."
Ms Bell said the taskforce might keep the scheme but recommend means testing.
"I think they have made it clear in the terms of reference that they are looking to target funding to those in need, those who are disadvantaged, and if there is no more funding or there's less funding, that means they are going to expect middle-income New Zealand to pick up more of the costs."
In announcing the $150,000 taskforce review, Mrs Tolley said the investment in early childhood education next year would total $1.3 billion.