Early childhood fund boost 'not enough'

SIOBHAN DOWNES
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2014

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New spending of $155 million on early childhood education over four years is vital to keep participation affordable, says Education Minister Hekia Parata.

But sector groups have already said the funding is not enough to keep pace with rising costs, and will do nothing to improve the quality of education children are receiving.

Parata said a $53.6m boost to subsidy rates would help keep fees affordable, which was vital to increase early childhood participation, especially for children from Maori, Pasifika and low-income backgrounds.

The extra funding would support an estimated 5800 children to access early childhood education by June 2018, more than a third of them from areas where participation was low, she said.

The Government has a target of increasing participation in early childhood education to 98 per cent of children starting school in 2016.

Parata said spending on early childhood education had almost doubled from more than $800m in 2007-08 to $1.5 billion in 2013-14.

But Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said that while the non-salary part of the funding subsidy had been increased by 2.5 per cent, the increase actually equalled about 1 per cent overall because salaries were the "lion's share" of costs.

That was below inflation, and meant pressure would fall on centres to either increase their parent fees or reduce staffing to make up costs.

"Childcare centres are falling further behind in terms of the funding input that Government gives," he said. "It's just getting harder and harder to offer a good- quality service to parents and their children."

While he was pleased the Government was targeting some of the children most in need, it was at the cost of middle income childhood education.

"That's the backbone of the system, and that's what keeps those centres going."

NZ Educational Institute president Judith Nowotarski described the funding announcement as underwhelming. "At the end of the day, community [childcare] services will continue to struggle."

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