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Government should not use quake to reduce ECE

Government should not use Canterbury earthquake as ‘cover’ to reduce revenue for early childhood education

03 March 2011 For immediate release

Voices in the early childhood education sector are expressing concern the Government may use the Canterbury earthquake ‘as a cover behind which it makes additional revenue cuts for early childhood centres’.

Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds said today (03 March) he was ‘concerned by the nature of some news items in which the Minister of Finance is reported as using the earthquake as an argument to cut funding for a wide range of budget items he was wanting to cut before the earthquake’.

Recent Government revenue cuts had seen early childhood education fees for the families of about 93,000 children increase by an average of $10 to $50 a week per child. They had also forced centres to reduce both the proportion of qualified teachers on their staff and their teacher-child ratios.

Early childhood centres and the families they serve had therefore ‘done our bit for Government savings’, Mr Reynolds said, ‘and we will not be wanting to do it again any time soon’.

The Early Childhood Council was working hard with Government to support early childhood centres in the Christchurch region and ‘fully supported the idea there would need to be New Zealand-wide sacrifices to help the people of Christchurch’, he said.

‘The principle, however, should be this. However immense the task, the Canterbury earthquake recovery will occur over a finite period of time. And the Government should not use the earthquake as cover to make the permanent spending cuts it was wanting to make before the earthquake.’

A recovering Christchurch would not be helped by a depleted early childhood education sector, Mr Reynolds said.

Money invested in early childhood education provided essential support for families under stress. It prepared children for school. It enabled employers to attract employees who would otherwise be unavailable for work. And it offered a high return on investment by reducing future public spending on crime, justice, remedial education, unemployment and welfare.

American research by Legal Momentum had found, in the United States, that every dollar spent on quality early childhood education saved taxpayers up to $13 in future costs, Mr Reynolds said.

Many in the early childhood sector believed however that the National Government had been planning ‘for some time’ yet-to-be announced cuts in early childhood education revenues, and there was ‘a substantial risk they would now use the earthquake to justify these’.

The Government has linked the earthquake to a diverse range of potential budget measures including the axing of large infrastructure projects, the part-selling of state-owned power companies, and cuts to funding for both Working for Families and interest-free loans for students.

The Early Childhood Council is the largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres in New Zealand. Its 1,100 member centres are both community-owned and commercially owned, employ more than 7,000 staff, and care for more than 50,000 children.


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