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ECE budget cuts would push up charges, close centres

Budget cuts for early childhood education would push up charges for parents, and close down centres, says Early Childhood Council

09 May, 2013


Budget cuts for early childhood education would push up charges for parents, and close down centres, the largest representative body of licensed early childhood centres in New Zealand said today. (09 May)

The comment followed news reports yesterday that Budget 2013 might include cuts to existing education programmes,

Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds said he knew of six centres forced to close in the past 12 months, 12 to 20 that were ‘teetering’, and dozens of others restructuring, downsizing and/or refinancing to survive.

If Government cut revenue again, dozens could fall, he said.

Government had, since 2010, ‘piled one early childhood revenue cut on top of the other’, and many centres could take no more, Mr Reynolds said.

The losses had been especially difficult for single centres and small groups that lacked the economies of scale of larger groups. And many had ‘walked a tightrope trying to both maintain high quality, and cover rising costs with falling incomes’.

Mr Reynolds described the Government’s early childhood education policy as ‘funding cuts by stealth’ which he defined as ‘deviously-engineered cuts obvious to centres, but relatively invisible to voting parents’. And he called for an end.

Most centres had, in the past three years, lost ‘at least tens of thousands of dollars a year’ and many had lost more, Mr Reynolds said.

They had lost funding for having 80 per cent or more teachers qualified. They had lost funding for the professional development of teachers. They had lost funding to maintain pay parity between teachers in early childhood centres and their colleagues in kindergartens. And they had lost the inflation indexing of universal subsidies like 20 Hours, which meant that the real value of those subsidies was falling every year.

As a consequence many centres had replaced qualified staff with the unqualified. Most had slashed professional development for teachers. Some were deferring building maintenance. Some had cut teacher-child ratios. Many had cut non-essential services. And ‘a frighteningly large number’ were on the verge of closing down.

It was ‘an obvious Government strategy’ to allow centres to take the blame when they were forced, as a result of Government funding cuts, to increase parent fees, Mr Reynolds said. And many centres had ‘had a gutsful of the Government cutting by stealth, then letting centres cop the blame for the consequences’.

The Early Childhood Council supported the Government’s policy of getting more low-income children into early childhood education, Mr Reynolds said. But ‘not if the money for this policy continued to be taken from existing centres’, and ‘not if the cost is a reduction in quality for the majority of children’.

The Government seemed ‘deeply out of touch’ with the experience of those struggling to maintain quality in early childhood centres, Mr Reynolds said. And the anger of centres was ‘substantial and growing’.

The Early Childhood Council has more than 1000 member centres, about 30% of which are community-owned and about 70% of which are commercially owned. Its members care for tens of thousands of children from one end of New Zealand to the other.

ENDS

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