The kohanga reo movement is run "on the sniff of an oily rag" and the lack of resources means lost opportunities, Maori Language Commission boss Glenis Philip-Barbara says.
A Waitangi Tribunal report published yesterday found the Government breached the Treaty of Waitangi by not supporting kohanga reo, a movement established in the 1980s to save the Maori language.
The Kohanga Reo National Trust board said the Government failed the Maori-immersion preschools after decades of attempts to drag them into the mainstream education system.
Mrs Philip-Barbara said kohanga reo played a central role in the successful revitalisation of the language.
"Kohanga creates opportunities for whanau to learn te reo Maori."
But underfunding had plagued the movement.
"I think it's a lost opportunity. Kohanga, like many Maori institutions, run on the sniff of an oily rag and so that tends to deny that proper growth."
The tough financial climate made it difficult, Mrs Philip-Barbara said.
"The resourcing issue has really impacted on the effectiveness that should have been what we're celebrating right now."
The tribunal said the movement and the language had suffered because of government policy and funding decisions.
It recommended that the Government apologise to the trust, promote attendance, and create a policy and funding regime specifically for kohanga reo. It also wants an interim independent adviser appointed to oversee its recommendations.
Labour education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said the Government must heed the tribunal's message.
The tribunal's report was a "huge win" for the Maori language, she said.
"Kohanga reo not only develops the capacity of the whole child, it recognises the importance of the whanau and community as important contributors to wellbeing and success."
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said the report highlighted the Crown's inability to fully appreciate the importance of the kohanga movement.
Mana Party leader Hone Harawira said the report confirmed what Maori had known for 30 years.
"Like many other Maori initiatives . . . kohanga reo has been hamstrung by crippling compliance requirements," he said.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said the Government would carefully consider the report before making a response.
Kohanga reo trustee Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi said the report proved what the movement knew all along. "Kohanga reo is driven by whanau, supported by iwi, hapu and . . . significant Maori organisations. Kohanga reo is inexplicably linked to the revitalisation of te reo Maori."
- The Dominion Post