ECE budget promised a Ferrari but delivered a lemon

Early Childhood Education leaders representing three quarters of the 4,579 ECE providers in Aotearoa have joined together in an open letter to the Minister of Education calling on her to rethink the unworkable 20 hours fees free conditions for two year olds and the pay parity consultation.

The 20 hours free ECE for two-year olds policy was announced without any prior consultation with the sector. This would have uncovered the large unintended consequences in the policy fine print. The proposed 20 hours are funded at the highest possible ratio of children to teachers which is currently 1-10. Childcare centres operate at a much lower and safer ratio than what the 20 hours is funded for. 

“Everyone wants high quality, accessible ECE,” says Te Rito Maioha Chief Executive Kathy Wolfe. “But when we’ve looked under the hood of the 20 hours free ECE and Pay Parity Consultation announcements, they’ve promised a Ferrari, but delivered a lemon, that if poorly implemented will result in increased parental fees and further centre closures.”

“The Ministry of Education (MoE) has a troubled track record with the sector. The most recent being their Pay Parity consultation. After rejecting nearly every recommendation from the Pay Parity Steering Group, the Ministry put together a short consultation process asking participants to select one of two unworkable solutions. While a request for an extension was ultimately granted, some of the questions posed by the MoE provided little funding information with the Ministry stating that it might be impossible for service providers to know which option would be best for them.” says Montessori Aotearoa NZ Chief Executive Cathy Wilson. 

“Centres want to be able to deliver 20 hours to families, but the funding conditions have to be right. There are serious concerns about the broad parameters, which need to be carefully worked through for it to succeed. The current Pay Parity consultation is counter-productive - we can’t let it happen again. There’s important work to be done before March 2024,” says Early Childhood Council Chief Executive Simon Laube. 

This policy puts centres across New Zealand in an impossible position, and if the policy proceeds without changes, early childhood centres will be left with no choice but to consider:

  • Significantly increasing fees for parents of under two’s for any additional hours beyond the initial 20 free hours.
  • Increasing child-to-teacher ratios to the maximum required which would compromise the care of children.
  • Opting out of 20 hours free for all age groups.
  • Closing their doors entirely.

    The conditions in the policy fine print state that co-payments and additional hours are no longer permitted to be charged to top up this underfunded policy. This effectively means the government are asking centres to run at a loss. “The more recent Budget announcement of 20 hours free ECE for two-year-olds, comes with additional funding, but also a with a significant catch with ‘conditions’ (which are yet to be finalised) to help ensure the full value of the 20 Hours ECE subsidy is passed on to parents.” Says New Shoots Children’s Centre Director, Michelle Pratt.“ “That sounds laudable, but the MoE has shown itself to be so incapable, that the sector has no faith in the MoE’s ability not to stuff this up.”

    “As a sector, we urgently want to meet with the Education Minister to discuss our concerns and have reached out last week to the Minister’s office. We want to work cooperatively to present a robust and equitable funding model that meets the needs of the Government, New Zealand families and the sector.” says New Zealand Kindergartens Network Chief Executive Jill Bond .

    Childspace Director Toni Christie adds, “Currently, the unintended consequences of poor policy implementation are resulting in the closure of ECE centres. The next tranche of policy implementation could see more centres shut their doors, and even longer waiting lists for parents.”

     “It would be a disaster to exclude kaiako from participating in ECE, deny parents, especially mothers’ the opportunity to enter the workforce and thereby exacerbating the current workforce shortages. Surely this is not the intent of the government. Let’s rebuild the ECE sector together”, says Mrs Christie. ”

    Read the open letter to Education Minister Jan Tinetti here 

    Media contact:
    Rob McCann - Lead Communications Advisor | Kaitohutohu Whakapā Matua

    [email protected]