Budget 2020: $278m boost for early childhood learning centres to bolster qualified workforce

Early childhood education centres (ECEs) are getting $278.2 million from Budget 2020 in a bid to increase the number of fully qualified and registered teachers. 

It follows Budget 2020's $320 million investment in early learning, including $151.1 million to boost the pay of some 17,000 qualified ECE teachers - bringing the overall investment in ECE to half a billion dollars. 

The latest financial injection will restore the 100 percent funding band for teacher-led ECE services after it was scrapped by the previous National-led Government in 2010.

In 2018, about 400 centres employed a fully qualified and certificated workforce. The aim of the financial boost is to reward those ensuring all of their required teachers are fully trained, by increasing their funding. 

ECE centres currently need to have at least 50 percent of staff with a recognised ECE teaching qualification, and about 96 percent of them employ 80 percent or more qualified and certificated teachers.

Only a small number - 135 out of 3305 - employs fewer than 80 percent. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said research shows high-quality ECE can improve young people's learning and developmental outcomes, particularly for children in low socio-economic groups. 

Hipkins said the sector has suffered from a "decade of underfunding" which is why he made ECE his "top priority" for Budget 2020.  

"This funding boost comes at a time when COVID-19 is likely to lower demand for early learning services. This new funding band will encourage more centres to use fully trained teachers and keep them in work."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the higher funding rate recognises how ECE is an "important part in our response and recovery from COVID-19" at a time when there might be lower demand for early learning services.

She said the funding will "encourage centres to keep their fully trained teachers in work".

Hipkins said about 80 percent of students returned to school on Monday - the first day back for students under alert level 2. For early learning services, he said about 53 percent of their students returned.

Hipkins said he was encouraged by the amount of children returning to school after lockdown.

"We know the educational community is going to play a very important role in helping to get the country back on its feet following the lockdown."

He said there was a shortage of ECE teachers going into COVID-19 response and the Government doesn't want to lose any registered teachers in New Zealand as the economy dips. 

In order to be ECE qualified, a teacher must hold a recognised ECE teaching qualification that leads to registration with the New Zealand Teachers Council.

The new 100 percent funding rates will apply from January 2021. Eligible centres will receive the increased payments in November 2020 advance funding to cover January and February 2021.