By STUART DYE education reporter
The entire private early childcare sector is in jeopardy under the Government's Budget plan for limited free education for all children, it is claimed.
Every 3- and 4-year-old in the country will be entitled to 20 hours of free preschooling each week from July 2007, Education Minister Trevor Mallard announced as part of the Budget.
But it will be funded only at community, teacher-led centres, not centres staffed by parents or those run privately for profit.
The 1000 private centres nationwide, which cater for about 45,000 children, will struggle to compete if parents go elsewhere to gain the free entitlement.
Ross Penman, president of the Early Childhood Council, which represents 850 mainly private early education providers, said the private sector was under threat.
Parents would inevitably take their children to where they could get free education, he said.
"Private centres will stand no chance in this climate and hundreds will be forced to close."
Council chief executive Sue Thorne said most of the preschools catering for working parents were private enterprises.
Mr Mallard was fixated on hobbling or closing the "very type of preschools that have been the most successful and innovative and which the majority of working parents choose," she said.
But Mr Mallard said private providers could look forward to extra funding from next April, recognising that they were employing high-quality staff.
In total they would receive about $143 million - almost half of the bulk-funding directed towards early childhood education in the Budget.
They wouldn't get the 20 hours' free education funding because the Government wanted to focus on extending the "community base".
"People are unlikely to make that quick jump [to a community provider]," said Mr Mallard.
"The real objective is to ensure there is high-quality early childhood education around the country to give parents choices," he said.
National Party education spokesman Bill English said the move would have the opposite effect by limiting choice.
Parents needed to find preschool centres that met their needs in terms of hours of work, transport and costs.
"In the real world, parents don't have the luxury of deciding whether the owner fits in with Labour's politically correct views on who should run the centres," he said.
One private early childhood centre leader said it was a big blow.
"Quite simply it takes away my livelihood," said Mele Moana, who has run the Prodigy Centre in Papatoetoe for three years.
Education Forum policy adviser Norman LaRocque said the Government was trying to shut down an innovative part of the economy.
"The Government doesn't tell social welfare beneficiaries they can't go to New World but must buy their groceries from a community co-op; it doesn't tell students where they can use their student loans. But the minister sees fit to sell the message that private enterprise is unwelcome in early childhood education."
Parent-led playcentres will also miss out on the funding to provide free education.
Vicky Johnston, president of the Playcentre Federation, which represents 519 centres, said the Government was overlooking one of the most important parent-support organisations in the country.
Winners Kindergartens - which provide sessions for 3- and 4-year-olds.
Community childcare centres - charity- or trust-run.
Losers Privately run childcare centres - small businesses run (often all day) for profit.
Parent-led playcentres - collectively managed by parents for children aged between 0 and 5 years.
Herald Feature: Education
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By STUART DYE education reporter