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Fee Cap Will Reduce Quality and Choice

Tue, 25 Jan 2005

Media Release: Early Childhood Education

Fee Cap Will Reduce Quality and Choice

The cracks in the Government's much flaunted 'Free 20 hours ECE' policy are starting to appear already and the bandaids are coming out.

The Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard has announced that he intends monitoring childcare fees through the CPI with a view to capping fees charged by community-based centres if they are higher than he likes. This move highlights one of the significant flaws in his 'Free 20 hours early childhood education for 3 and 4 year olds' policy and the dilemma the Minister has in trying to deliver on his promise.

'Free 20 hours' is not 'Free' at all. Government funding for 'Free' will be paid to community-owned centres at the average hourly cost of providing 20 hours early childhood education. Half the community centres receiving the funding will be under-funded and half will be over-funded.

Community-owned centres currently charge anything from $10.00 per week to $250.00 per week indicating their markedly different cost structures and the vastly different services they offer families.

"It would appear that the penny has finally dropped in the Minister's office that to make ends meet, community-owned centres with above-average costs will hike up fees for those age groups and parts of the week outside the free 20 hours" said Sue Thorne, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Council.

"It's quite incredible that the Minister's solution to stop any transferring of costs caused by his under-funding of the free 20 hours is to cap the fees centres can charge so they are forced to downgrade the quality of the service they provide to children or go broke" said Mrs Thorne.

Any move to cap fees would be a significant backward step for the early childhood sector which has worked hard over the past 15 years to successfully raise quality standards and provide services that meet the needs of the communities they serve.

The government has already introduced wage fixing to the early childhood sector from April 2005 by linking the new early childhood funding system to a requirement for centres to pay staff in accordance with the consenting parties collective agreement. This despite the fact that up till now 92% of services and employees have rejected this collective agreement and opted for performance-based individual employment agreements.

"This latest Government interference in the independent early childhood sector is yet another nail in the coffin for diversity and choice and another step towards dumbing-down the early childhood sector to replicate the one-size-fits-all state school model so favoured by the present Minister of Education" said Mrs Thorne.

The Early Childhood Council represents the managers and owners of over 800 community owned and privately owned services throughout New Zealand.


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