Early childhood education (ECE) funding cuts have forced centres to close down and left others straining to make ends meet, a Parliamentary committee has been told.
The Government slashed $400 million from the sector by introducing funding for up to 80 per cent of qualified staff rather than 100 per cent.
In February, teachers union NZEI presented a petition with 62,000 signatures to MPs, calling for the cuts to be reversed and for the Government to invest 1 per cent of GDP on ECE.
Speaking about the petition at an education and science select committee this morning, NZEI spokeswoman Hayley Whitaker said centres had already closed as a result of the cuts and more were under threat.
Centres did not want to publicise the possibility of closure because it was somewhat self-fulfilling, with fears possible clients would go looking for other options.
In some cases staff had taken pay cuts and reduced hours to stop the cuts being passed on with increased fees, but still parents had faced average fee increases of 12 per cent.
Ms Whitaker said it was a "fairytale reality" to say lower income families simply had to prioritise better to afford ECE.
"What are they going to choose between? Half of them don't own cars, so they can't cut those costs, what are they going to do? Choose not to feed their children?" Ms Whitaker asked.
"Early childhood education is a human right and a public good, it shouldn't be about who can afford it and who can't?"
With regard qualified teachers, Ms Whitaker said there was no research to show 80 per cent was good enough.
However, Education Ministry's Richard Walley said there was no evidence that it was necessary to have 100 per cent qualified teachers to ensure high quality ECE.
Mr Walley rejected the idea of spending 1 per cent of GDP on ECE given the tight fiscal conditions the Government was operating under.
Asked about teachers taking pay cuts to ease pressure, Mr Walley said services that had more than 80 per cent qualified teachers would have to take certain measures to adjust to the new funding regime.
"There are a range of things that services are able to do, at the end of the day that's a choice for the service and, we would hope, one made in consultation with the community."