A new study estimates that the Government has cut $260 million a year off funding for preschool childcare and education since 2010.
The study by Infometrics says the money has been cut by axing a higher subsidy rate for preschool centres with 100 per cent trained teachers, and failing to adjust all subsidy rates for inflation.
The study was commissioned by the teachers' union the NZ Educational Institute, which is rallying Wellington preschoolers to present colourful messages at Parliament today asking MPs to pledge to restore the funding that has been cut.
They also want MPs to pledge to reduce teacher/child ratios and restore the former Labour Government's goal of 100 per cent trained teachers in all early childhood services.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he would sign all three pledges, although he could not promise to spend an extra $260 million a year immediately.
"The issue is around time frames," he said. "I couldn't make a specific commitment around the rate, but would I be asking for more money for early childhood education? Absolutely!"
The 2010 changes were made in the context of a global financial crisis, a ballooning budget deficit, and a quadrupling of spending on early childhood education from $307m in 2001-02 to $1.2 billion in 2009-10 under Labour's policies of 20 hours a week of free preschooling for 3- and 4-year-olds and higher subsidy rates for centres with more qualified teachers.
The top subsidy rate for centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers was abolished.
Other subsidy rates have been raised only marginally. For example, subsidy rates for all-day teacher-led education and care centres with between 50 and 80 per cent qualified teachers have risen by only 2.7 per cent since July 2010, when education sector wage rates have risen by 8.5 per cent.
Infometrics says the Government would be spending $260 million more each year if it had retained the higher subsidies for centres with 100 per cent qualified teachers, and raised all subsidy rates by 8.5 per cent.
For comparison, the Government is spending $1.8b on early childhood education this year, a sum that has grown, despite restrained subsidy rates, because of parents going back to work sooner after having children and new requirements for parents on welfare to place their children in preschool education from age 3.
An extra $260m a year would raise that spending by 14.2 per cent to $2.1b a year.
Nelson kindergarten teacher Virginia Oakly, who is leading the children's group at Parliament today, said almost all the higher early childhood spending since 2010 had gone on the quantity of children, rather than the quality of teaching and care.
"All the evidence shows that early childhood education has a powerful, positive impact on a child's entire life, but only if it is of a really high quality," she said.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said funding for ECE had increased each year under the National Government, and had more than doubled in the period since the 2007/2008 financial year to $1.8 billion in the 2016/17 financial year.
"The Government has invested in increasing participation, now at 96.7 per cent and we've expanded the 20 hours ECE policy to all playcentres and kohanga reo, and we have maintained high standards and quality across the sector while supporting the role qualified teachers play in providing this.
"Per-child ECE funding in New Zealand is among the top third in the OECD, and the OECD report that New Zealand had the some of the best ratios of children to teachers in ECE.
"The number of services employing 80 per cent or more qualified teachers has increased - from 91 per cent in 2011 to 97 per cent in 2015."