Government funding has failed to keep pace with the real cost of education, leading to cuts in essential resourcing for children's learning, NZEI Te Riu Roa president Louise Green told 400 educators in Rotorua today.
Educators have descended on the city for NZEI's four-day summit, which opened today.
Ms Green labelled Government funding as "well below standard" and warned the situation would be exacerbated if the Government moved to bulk funding of schools.
"Kiwi kids deserve the best education in the world, and as a country we can afford to provide it. But Government funding cuts are stretching our early childhood providers and primary schools to breaking point," she said.
"The squeeze on early childhood funding is forcing some services to reduce the number of qualified teachers and increase group sizes, which is bad news for quality learning at a young age."
She said it was an embarrassment that New Zealand primary schools received so little money compared with other countries.
"The underfunding of primary schools will be made worse by the Government's decision to freeze schools' operations and support staff funding for 2017.
"As educators we know that better funding will lead to better learning and will provide the staffing, resources and time needed to ensure every child has the support they need to succeed.
"We are calling on the Government to lift the funding freeze on the school operations grant and to restore quality funding for early childhood education. We want to see an increased funding to primary schools to move us into the top half of the OECD."
NZEI campaigns director Stephanie Mills said the conference was an opportunity to get representatives in a room together to plan the year ahead.
She said this year's conference would look at a number of issues faced by the education sector, including funding, privatisation and job stability.
Auckland teachers Imogen Kennedy and Rita Langstone are both new to the profession, having been teachers for less than five years.
The pair agreed the conference was a great way to have their voices heard as a collective.
"It also gives you a chance to be more educated about what's happening in education. It's cool to be around people who are so passionate about educating our kids," Ms Kennedy said.
"It's a good opportunity to network with other people in the area. There's always a nice energy at these conferences because it's like-minded educators willing to stand up and be heard," Ms Langstone said.