Freeze on early childcare funds 'ridiculous'

By Kate Shuttleworth, Cassandra Mason

The Government has not raised early education subsidies. Photo / Thinkstock
The Government has not raised early education subsidies. Photo / Thinkstock

The Government is under fire from early childhood groups who say a proposed freeze on care subsidies would be "ridiculous''.

The Government announced in the Budget yesterday that the current 20-hour subsidy rates for all childcare centres would remain but there would be no increase in line with inflation, unlike past increases.

Education Minister Hekia Parata explained the freeze at the Playcentre Federation and the Early Childhood Council annual conferences in Waikanae today.

"In the early childhood area we have made an explicit trade-off between a universal cost adjustment and a target of $47.9 million into equity funding because we are determined to get 98 per cent of new entrants by 2016 having participated in early childhood education,'' she said.

But those working in early childhood education (ECE) believed the trade-off would have serious consequences for families with young children.

Massey University Early Childhood Education Centre manager Colleen O'Brien, called the freeze "ridiculous''.

"We all have inflation and our costs are going up.''

Another daycare centre worker also criticised the freeze.

''(The Government) haven't done many other things to match inflation ... so it's not really a surprise to me. The cost of living is getting out of hand and they're just hitting the poor again.''

She said the measures could mean kids being pulled from good daycare centres and put into lower quality ones.

"I'm waiting to hear about the 20 hours, waiting for that to be the next thing taken.''

Daycare centre employee Lisa Cook agreed that cuts to the education sector are getting harder and harder.

"There's literally nothing we can do about it but, if the country's got no money, it's got no money.''

Ms Parata also used her speech today to release the recommendations of two advisory groups on how to improve the quality of early childhood education. They include a raft of measures to tighten up the qualifications of early childhood teachers.

Ms Cook said that of the recommendations, the requirement of at least 50 per cent qualified staff was the most positive.

"I agree with that, there should be a mixture and it's easy to operate at 50 per cent.''

She said it was important to have a level of expertise among staff but having volunteers was important too.

Others in the sector agreed, saying they were delighted with the recommendation.

Mrs O'Brien said the sector should be aiming towards 100 per cent qualification in all early education childhood centres.

"We have 100 per cent here and it wasn't very hard to achieve.''

She said the recommendation might pose more of a problem in rural areas, where qualified staff might be harder to find.

"How do you get 100 per cent in the middle of the North Island? It's an isolation thing.''

Education sector union NZEI Te Riu Roa also welcomed the recommendation on qualified teachers but saw it as the first step.

Playcentre Federation president Maureen Woodhams was not as welcoming of the changes saying she had concerns about how both education and welfare were approached in this year's Budget.

She said early childhood education had been propped up by volunteers but welfare reforms would push parents to spend more of their discretionary time in paid employment .

"Our funding rate is predicated that most of the work will be done by volunteers, that is a flawed system. It's not a sustainable model.''

- NZ Herald

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