Early childhood education (ECE) centres are struggling to make ends meet under what is effectively a six-year funding freeze, the country's largest education union says.
Pre-school centres are being forced to cut teacher pay, rely more on untrained staff, reduce qualified time with children and ask for more cash from parents, all of which is unsustainable, the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) says after it surveyed 264 out of more than 4500 ECEs.
Eighty-seven percent said they had shortfalls in government funding, 70 percent increased fees to parents and 83 percent had cut services or facilities.
The union blames the Government for, since 2010, only funding a maximum of 80 percent trained staff and wanting to increase ECE participation to 98 percent.
An extra $369 million in this year's Budget (over four years) would be swallowed up by more children taking part, the union says.
"Instead of aiming for the best quality early childhood education possible, the Government has lowered teacher standards, and starved the sector of funding, as it focuses on driving as many children to participate as possible," NZEI executive member Virginia Oakley said on Sunday.
But the Minister of Education says the survey is misleading and the Government is committed to ECE.
"There are around 25,000 staff working in early childhood services across the country," says Hekia Parata. "Around 74.6 percent of those are qualified teachers, which has increased from around 61.1 percent in 2008. It is highly misleading to use a survey response made by 264 staff, which is around 1 percent of all ECE teachers, to characterise the whole sector."
The union wants the Government to commit to having all fully trained staff in ECEs, fund them 100 percent of them and to increase per-child funding to 2010 levels, inflation adjusted.
It also wants to reduce class sizes and the teacher to child ratios. The ministry says New Zealand is in the top three countries worldwide for staff to children ratios.
The Government spends more than $1.6 billion on ECE each year - more than double what it was in 2007/2008.
"For every $1 parents contribute to ECE, the Government contributes $4.80," says Ms Parata. "What's more, per-child ECE funding in New Zealand is among the highest in the OECD."
The Government recently announced a review into what was being taught at ECEs.
"The number of ECE services assessed by the Education Review Office as not well placed to deliver quality education has shown a significant decrease, from 28.8 percent in 2008 to just 2.6 percent in 2015," says Ms Parata.
NZN / Newshub.