Key Points:

After seeing its roll shrink for six years, a Maori-language kindergarten in Papatoetoe has finally started growing again - thanks to the Government's new policy of 20 hours a week of free education for 3- and 4-year-olds.

Te Kohanga Reo O Te Rangimaria in Puhinui Rd is one of only 130 of the country's 485 kohanga reo (Maori-language preschools) that has been approved under the policy so far.

The new funding provides about half its total budget for 3- and 4-year-olds, keeping its net fees for parents for 40 hours a week of childcare to a flat $136 a week, for everyone from babies to 4-year-olds.

But 355 other kohanga are still missing out on the money - an outcome the Child Poverty Action Group wants to change.

The group's report on child poverty, published last night, says Maori children are more likely than others to live in low-income families, and less likely to enrol in preschool education.

It says many kohanga reo, and almost all playcentres, don't qualify for the 20-free-hours policy because they are "whanau, or family-led", not "teacher-led".

"They have come out of the context of families meeting the needs of their children. It's not about whether people are qualified or not," said Unitec early childhood professor Jenny Ritchie, who wrote the early childhood section of the report.

A Kohanga Reo National Trust manager, Heke Huata, said the kohanga movement aimed to meet the needs of whole families, not just education for their preschoolers. It ran adult courses in Maori language, business and administration and computing.

"We don't enrol children aged zero to 5. We enrol a whanau," she said.

She said the movement was founded under the now-defunct broad-based Maori Affairs Department in 1982, but came under the Ministry of Education when the Maori Affairs agency was broken up in the early 1990s, imposing heavier regulations which have forced several hundred kohanga reo to close.

Numbers of children attending kohanga peaked at 14,514 in 1993 and fell to 9493 in 2006, recovering only fractionally to 9585 last year.

The ministry agreed late last year to grant funding to kohanga where at least one teacher has the kohanga movement's teacher's qualification.