Every child is worth investment by government when it comes to good-quality early childhood education.
That is the message of a new campaign launched by education union NZEI Te Riu Roa in a push to restore funding to Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers in order to improve quality, rather than just increase participation.
Since 2010, additional government funding for ECE has been based on increased participation only, meaning services have faced cuts to their core per-child funding.
Lynne Pope, manager of Nancy Winter Early Childhood Centre in Raetihi, is concerned for the future of the centre which has a roll of 53 children.
Ms Pope has been working with Rangtikei MP Ian McKelvie to address her concerns about the impact that government policy on the centre.
"We are here for the families - they are not here for us and it is very important to remember that."
Ms Pope says providing good-quality education means being able to offer flexibility to families and Raetihi is unique.
"All small, rural communities are unique and each family is unique so we need to support that.
"Some of our parents are seasonal workers so they need to be able to increase and decrease their hours accordingly."
Parents are entitled to 20 hours of free early childhood education each week and individual providers charge varying rates for hours above 20.
"The maximum hourly rate we charge is $5.10 but most parents pay $4.50," says Ms Pope.
"I believe that some privately owned early childhood centres are charging up to $17 an hour."
The ECE funding system, implemented in April 2005, changed the way the Ministry of Education funds ECE services.
Early childhood centres are bulk-funded, which NZEI says compromises the quality of education because budgets do not allow for fully qualified staff.
A proposal by government to bulk fund primary and secondary education was strenuously opposed by education unions and Education Minister Hekia Parata announced last week that the proposal has now been withdrawn.
The community ECE centre in Raetihi was opened by Tariana Turia in 2007 and named after one of Raetihi's first early childhood educators, Nancy Winter, who coached hundreds of local children in swimming and received a Queen's Service Medal in 1997.
Ms Pope says the centre belongs to the community and employs highly skilled and dedicated staff who provide good-quality education to the town's children.
"We have not had an increase in funding for the past five years," says Ms Pope.
"I hate to think that the education we provide may be compromised because of government policy that puts high participation rates ahead of the quality of delivery."
NZEI is seeking a firm commitment from the government to restore core per-child ECE funding to the level it was before the funding freezes in 2010 and to restore funding for services with 100 per cent qualified teachers.