Union pushing to restore quality ECE teacher funding

Early childhood education teachers Julie Brice and Yasamin Mansur during the launch of the NZEI campaign.

Early childhood education teachers Julie Brice and Yasamin Mansur during the launch of the NZEI campaign.

"Every child is worth it," is the mantra of a new campaign by education union NZEI Te Riu Roa to put an end to a six-year early childhood education (ECE) funding freeze.

Their latest campaign demands the 2017 Budget restore funding to a level that would prioritise quality teaching.

NZEI President Louise Green believes every child deserves the best education New Zealand can possibly provide.

"Instead of aiming for the best quality early childhood education, the Government has cut funding for qualified teachers and starved the sector of funding as it focuses on its target of 98 per cent participation in ECE," she said.

According to NZEI, since 2010, additional Government funding for ECE has been based on increased participation.

"It's irresponsible to drive more children into ECE, while driving down the quality," Green said.

Jenny Salesa, MP for Manukau East.

Jenny Salesa, MP for Manukau East.

Finlayson Park Childcare Centre head teacher Julie Brice said they are struggling to exist.

"With the funding freeze, it's now extremely difficult to keep paying wages and salaries".

Brice said in an area like Clendon, a lot of children don't speak English as their first language and come from low-income families.

"Often they [students] live in overcrowded houses, so they have poor health outcomes. These children, through no fault of their own or their families, are already disadvantaged. This area is not well off so we can't up our fees. We've had two or three fee increases in 20 years."

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She said the Ministry's own Early Childhood Advisory Group for under 2's has warned that Maori and Pasifika and children from low-income areas receive the greatest benefit from quality ECE.

Manukau East MP, Jenny Salesa said high-quality education "is crucial for our children to flourish".

"I support the NZEI campaign. Our high-quality education system is now highly unequal," she said.

She said the most important predictor of a child's future educational performance nowadays is their family's "socio-economic status".

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Salesa said in 2009/10 ECE services received $10,011 per child per year. By 2014/15 that had fallen to $9,473 - that's a cut of more than $500 per child.

"Claims that overall funding has increased are incorrect. Any increases are simply due to more children participating," she said.

"The funding for the highest quality, early childhood services – those that employ fully qualified and registered teachers – has been cut by over $500 million."

She would like to see funding restored for "services with fully qualified teachers". 

"It's very disappointing to see many of our South Auckland children are being let down currently. Per-child funding for early childhood education has been steadily and deliberately cut on this Government's watch."

ECE funding doubled: Minister

However, Education Minister Hekia Parata said funding for ECE has more than doubled since 2007/08 to around $1.8 billion in 2016/17. 

She said, for every $1 that parents contribute to ECE, the Government contributes $4.80 and that per child ECE funding in New Zealand is among the highest in the OECD.

"For children to experience and benefit from quality ECE, they have to first participate. That's why our Government has set the target of 98 per cent participation, and we are now at 96.7 per cent. It's not a matter of either participation or quality – it is both," said Parata.

"We are backing up that commitment by more than doubling funding for ECE, making it more affordable for parents and setting ambitious targets for participation."

According to the Ministry, in the last three years, 483 ECE services have opened in New Zealand while 155 closed during the same period.

 - Stuff

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