Early childhood measures welcomed
The Labour Party's plan to expand free early childhood education has been welcomed by those working in the sector in Palmerston North.
Labour leader David Cunliffe launched his party's Best Start package in his state of the nation speech yesterday, which he said would focus on a child's first five years.
The plan is to give parents with newborn children $60 a week for the first year of the baby's life if the parents' combined salary is less than $150,000 a year. For middle- and lower-income families, the payments would continue until the child's third birthday.
Among other things, the package includes an increase in free early childhood education for children older than 3 from 20 hours a week to 25 hours a week, an extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks, and the provision of free antenatal classes.
"It's a good move as far as early childhood is concerned," said Tui Early Learners manager Deborah Petersen. It's not well set up at the moment being 20 hours, because it doesn't work with the funding that happens, because it's a maximum of six hours a day. To increase that to at least 24 would make more sense."
However, she said free childcare should be targeted at lower- and middle- income parents.
"There needs to be a bit more focus on the groups whose children really need it rather than just giving it out to everybody."
She said the focus needed to be on lower-decile children, as they were costing the country in the long run in extra schooling and "getting off the track" later in life.
"Places like the Netherlands put a lot of money into early childcare 20 years ago and now they're closing prisons," she said.
NZEI Te Riu Roa Palmerston North union representative Liam Rutherford said the plan would improve the performance of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. He said the plan "is going to tackle the out-of-school issues that have got huge effects around the in-school issues".
"There is overwhelming research that shows that teachers make the biggest in-school impact, but in actual fact it is the out-of-school issues that have a bigger effect on what goes on inside the classroom. And I think that's what's been lacking from [Prime Minister] John Key's announcement at the beginning of the week that Labour and also the Greens have really hit the mark with."
Education Minister Hekia Parata's office referred a request for comment to Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce, who issued a statement saying Mr Cunliffe had to come clean on where the money would come from.
"Mr Cunliffe acts as if he has magically got $1.5 billion a year to spend because he cancelled some already-cancelled Labour Party policies last week that have never been budgeted in the country's accounts."
He said there was no GST off fruit and vegetables in Treasury's forward projections, and no tax-free threshold to take out, so cancelling them did not save anything.
Mr Cunliffe formally ditched two of his party's 2011 policies last week: a tax-free band on the first $5000 of income, and a pledge to exempt fresh fruit and vegetables from GST. He said that freed up $1.5b a year.
The prime minister told the Manawatu Standard that early childhood education was a priority for the National-led Government.
During a stopover in Feilding, on his way to Ratana last week, Mr Key said there were concerted efforts being made in the early childhood sector: "We are very committed to fundamentally seeing every New Zealand child attend early childhood education. Academic research shows us that children that go to early childhood education are better at school, so we're aiming to get 98 per cent of kids involved in it." Editorial: P8