Hundreds of Maori, including the King's wife and daughter, will today march to the Waitangi Tribunal to lodge an urgent claim alleging the Crown has discriminated against kohanga reo centres.

Kohanga are a whanau-based total-immersion Maori language programme for preschoolers.

Te Kohanga Reo National Trust alleges the Crown discriminates against kohanga if they do not operate like early childhood education centres, although they were never set up as such.

The trust says the Crown does not fund kaumatua who teach children because they are not registered or qualified teachers, and does not fully fund kohanga if parents are not working or in training.

Another complaint is against policies which the trust says are contrary to the way kohanga and cultural practices have developed. These include health and safety laws requiring centres to be fenced off from the marae or separating sleeping children.

The claim will ask for kohanga to be removed from under the wing of the Ministry of Education and given statutory recognition as an independent and stand-alone initiative. It also wants an end to current funding inequities and for the Crown to pay for the claim.

The trust's board - which oversees 471 kohanga reo - believes kohanga have been wrongly treated as early childhood centres when they were never set up to be that.

Kohanga were established in the early 1980s to pass on Maori language and cultural values to children through total immersion in te reo and the movement prides itself on being whanau based.

Lawyer Mai Chen, who is acting for the trust board, said submitting the urgent claim was the last resort in what has been a lengthy process.

"For 30 years they have been trying to get proper recognition of the unique status of Te Kohanga Reo and it is with great reluctance that they bring this claim."

The timing of the claim follows the recent release of the Early Childhood Education Taskforce report which made a number of recommendations, including possible funding changes which would see less money going to parent-led services.

Ms Chen said the board was unhappy it had not been involved in the report, despite thousands of children attending kohanga.

The board now fears the recommendations will be damning for the future of kohanga, which would "not exist in five years time if we do not challenge now".

Education Minister Anne Tolley said the ECE Taskforce was an independent group and everyone was encouraged to have their say during the two-month consultation period.

She said the Government supported diversity in ECE - and this included kohanga reo, which would receive over $50 million this year. The 20 Hours free subsidy was also extended to kohanga last year.


The Crown ...

* Does not protect kohanga as taonga

* Forced kohanga reo into regulatory framework it does not fit

* Adopted policies contrary to kohanga

* Gives less funding to kohanga due to teaching methods

* Ignored requests to be involved in the ECE Taskforce