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Fix 20 Free Hours or Scrap It

30 March 2007

Fix 20 Free Hours or Scrap It

It is time for the government to fix or scrap its proposed policy of providing 20 free hours of early childhood education for 3 and 4 year olds, according to Education Forum policy advisor Norman LaRocque.

Revelations today that ECE services would not be allowed to take steps to recoup some of the costs of the 20 free hours policy by charging higher fees for other groups, mean the policy must be fixed or scrapped. Otherwise irreparable damage to both the kindergarten and education and care sectors is likely, Mr LaRocque said.

"Centres are likely to go under, meaning limits on parental choice, a reduction in the quality of education and care provided and fewer incentives to invest in the ECE sector.

"To fix the policy, the government should allow ECE centres to charge top-up fees for the 20 free hours. It should also reconsider whether spending $140 million on universal ECE subsidies is the best use of taxpayer money and whether funding should instead be focused on those families that are most in need," said Mr LaRocque.

"Many ECE centres are voting with their feet by refusing to participate in the 20 free hours scheme. The major ECE sector advocacy groups - including the Auckland Kindergarten Association, the Early Childhood Council, the Montessori Association and the Rudolf Steiner Federation - have given the policy the thumbs down. How much more evidence does the Minister need that the policy is fatally flawed as currently designed?

"The policy cannot be fixed through tinkering. No. 8 wire solutions and second-best workarounds won't do. It needs a radical overhaul.

The success of the ECE sector in meeting the diverse needs of New Zealand families over the past 20 years has been fostered by a policy environment that has ensured sensible oversight, while allowing centre owners, teaching staff and parents - not election slogans - to drive decision-making in the sector. Policies that attempt to turn back the clock to an outdated, centralised, nanny-knows-best system should be avoided at all cost, Mr LaRocque said.


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