Wellington parents hit with fee rise

JOHN HARTEVELT AND AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2011
Newlands Childcare
MAARTEN HOLL/ Dominion Post

Newlands Childcare teacher Lisa Kingsford with Zephaniah Tauafiafi (3).

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Wellington parents are this morning signing a petition asking the Government to reverse funding cuts to early childhood education.

As the funding cuts, announced in last May's budget, took effect today, parents at Newlands Childcare have been hit with a 10 per cent fee increase.

 Angela Burke, the centre co-director, said it was necessary to cover the cost of the $50,000 loss of income as a result of the cuts.

"We need families to stand up and say 'This is not OK'."

Mother Helen Cousins said the fee increase of $25 a week meant it was almost more economical to stay at home with
her son than go to work, as money was already tight.

"I only work three days a week because I'm expecting a little one in June, so it's just a killer.

"I could just be a fulltime stay at home mum, and sacrifice my own career, and we'd be almost financially the same.

"There are a lot of mums I know that just can't afford to go back to work."

The petition has been launched by the early childhood teachers union NZEI Te Riu Roa.

The Government is refusing to rule out further cuts to early childhood education as reductions affecting more than 2200 centres kick in today.

The Government said in last year's Budget that it would dump the top rate of funding to early childhood centres, a move that takes effect today.

Later in the year, Education Minister Anne Tolley announced that an ECE task force would review the effectiveness of spending in the sector and propose new ideas.

Asked yesterday if she could rule out any further cuts in this year's Budget, Mrs Tolley said: "Any budget decisions will be announced on Budget day." She added that the Government was "bringing spending under control".

Labour says thousands of families will face up to $80 a week in fee rises as a result of today's funding cut. It is promising to restore funding and is putting its name to a petition against any more cuts.

Figures issued by the Education Ministry yesterday showed 2249 of the country's 5251 services would be affected by the cut.

Group manager of early childhood education Karl Le Quesne said it was too early to say how the centres would handle the cuts, but Labour leader Phil Goff said thousands of families would be paying more. The party had surveyed 435 centres and found fee increases of between $2 and $80 a week were being planned. The average increase would be between $20 and $45 a week.

"That puts more pressure on those families and it means that some of those children will miss out, and that will be a tragedy, because that's the most important period of learning in a child's life," Mr Goff said.

Labour would make it "a priority" to restore the funding cut and would throw its support behind a petition against the cuts being launched by the sector union, the New Zealand Educational Institute, in Auckland today.

Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said many centres would cut their qualified teachers and reduce their staff-to-child ratios to the regulated minimum. "It is disappointing to hear ECE described as a cost to society, not an investment," Ms Bell said.

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Mrs Tolley said the Government was spending more than ever on ECE, subsidising centres at an average of $7600 a child a year.

"This compares to an average of $5528 for a primary school student, and $6733 for a student at secondary school," she said.

"We are bringing spending under control, while targeting funding at the children who need it the most."

- The Dominion Post

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