Early childhood education providers are feeling the pinch, and are blaming the government for a lack of funding to support their increasing day-to-day operational costs.

Taking some of the harder hits are Hamilton Playworx Kindy owners Maxine Murdoch and her daughter Mereika Bourke - they operate their business solely on government subsidies and say a lack of increase in funding on a per child basis has hit them hard.

Mereika Bourke says she and her mother pay themselves the minimum wage to ensure their staff get paid.

"All of our costs have increased yet the money from government hasn't, and we can't control that - we are completely in their hands when it comes to the funding," Mrs Bourke says.


It's an issue affecting some early childcare education centres, as funding per child has decreased as attendance numbers increase - but most parents aren't aware of the problem.

Alyshia Walsh has three children at Playworx Kindy and says she probably wouldn't be able to afford putting her kids into pre-school education if she had to pay.

"I don't see the money side of it for the managers, or for the owners I just see the amazing care that they give to all the children here, and that hasn't changed."

But Playworx Kindy is doing more with less, Mrs Bourke says they now receive a dollar thirty less, per-hour per-child, than 6 years ago.

"It equates to extra activities we can't do with the children, professional development, that we can't do with our staff."

The ethos behind Playworx is to provide a service to low income families, that means they don't charge parents, putting Playworx at the mercy of government funding.

Mrs Bourke says they could set minimum hours for the play centre which would mean parents have to pay, but that's not the business model Mrs Bourke and Mrs Murdoch want to operate.

Mrs Bourke says they don't want to be "charging fees that people see as the difference between bread and milk on the table".

"We didn't do it for money, we didn't open three centres to become millionaires or anything like that. W we did it because there were needs within the communities and we wanted to provide a small centre to give good quality care for children."

Across town - Lee Tulloch manages two early learning centres, in Glenview and Tamahere.

For her, breaking even isn't an issue because parents do pay fees.

She says they're lucky that the centre is in a "good area" and parents are willing and able to pay, which means Li'l Pumpkins Early Learning has the ability for extra staffing and are able to cater food and do more for the children.

"In a centre like ours with parents paying fees, there are different things like the teachers go off and have non-contact time and maintain their children's portfolios."

However she acknowledges that solely government funded early childhood education centres can be creative and make a lot happen despite the lack of increased funding per child.

Mrs Tulloch says she's concerned about rising compliance costs too, which is a 'hidden fee' parents don't often see or know about.

"We used to do a lot of teaching, but now there's a lot more paperwork. You're pulled out of the classroom to be accountable for the money you're getting therefore money's going into the wrong place because you're meeting compliance costs."

However Education Minister Hekia Parata says there is "no funding freeze", and says the government is spending more than ever on early childhood education to increase child participation to 98% - currently child participation sits at 96.7%.

Over the last decade around 1.8 billion dollars was put into early childhood education in the 2014/2015 financial year.

Despite this investment, the money isn't filtering down to child education providers which rely solely on government funding.

In a statement the Ministry of Education's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey says 'childcare' subsidies have been increased by the government to "help reduce the cost of early childhood education for low-income households". This Childcare Subsidy is distributed through Work and Income.

The ECE funding subsidy is the primary form of funding that contributes to service's operating costs by paying for part of each hour each child spends in ECE which is only funded for a childs set amount of hours.

But operating costs including wages, KiwiSaver, administration, resources and utilities have increased over the last six years and education providers like Mrs Bourke say the funding hasn't been targeted to keep up with the changes in operating an early childhood centre which is fully funded by the government.

And those working in the sector say there is too much of a focus on getting numbers increased, and not the quality of education and service provided.

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