Budget 2020: Early learning services get $320m boost including pay increase for teachers

Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: File

Some 17,000 qualified early learning childhood education (ECE) teachers will have their pay boosted thanks to $151.1 million in Budget 2020 as part of a $320.8 million investment in early learning.  

The minimum salary for ECE teachers is currently $45,491, depending on the qualifications held by that teacher. On July 1, the minimum salary will increase to $49,862, bringing them in line with kindergarten teachers' pay. 

That boost will be provided thanks to a 2.3 percent increase in education and care services' subsidy rates from the Government - a $151 million boost over four years. 

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said a significant gap between ECE teachers and other teachers in schools and kindergartens had built up over time and the Government wanted to change that, particularly given the risks they face in a COVID-19 world. 

"As we respond to the impact of COVID-19 to our society and economy, the Government remains committed to fair pay for lower-paid workers, especially the workers who have helped get the country moving again."

He said the funding boost "goes some way" towards levelling the playing field for ECE centres looking to employ qualified teachers. But he said he acknowledges that "fully closing the gap" between education and care services and kindergartens "will be a challenge to be addressed over a number of Budgets". 

The overall $320 million investment will also cover a 1.6 percent increase in education and care service subsidy rates from January next year, to help meet cost pressures over the past year, which will bring the combined subsidy increase to 3.9 percent. 

That adjustment will cost $122.7 million in operating funding over four years. 

An additional $36.2 million in funding over four years will go to supporting home-based early learning services to help them transition to a "more professionalised workforce".  

"Home-based early childhood education has been the fastest-growing part of the early learning sector," Hipkins said. "In the future at least 80 percent of the home-based educator workforce will hold a required qualification, to ensure better and more consistent quality."

On top of that, extra funding of $3.1 million over four years will to go play-centres, which is estimated to support more than 400 of them who provide a "unique early learning choice" to around 9500 children and their families. 

Finally, the overall $320 million covers $7.8 million for the Ministry of Education's Early Childhood Education Provider Assessment Group that works towards ensuring early childhood education services meet quality and safety standards. 

Hipkins said the majority of children participating in early learning attend an education and care service, with 135,237 children - around 68 percent - attending one in 2019. 

"Our $320.8 million investment in early learning in this year's Budget supports the move to higher quality early learning that prioritises the learning, wellbeing and identity of every child."

Critics have said the Government has been too focused on primary and secondary teachers' pay to notice what's going on in early childcare.

The Government increased the wages of high school and primary teachers. For example, Q1E entry point teachers with a Diploma of Teaching currently earn $48,410 which will go up again in July to $49,862 and go up again the following year to $51,358. 

But getting there wasn't a smooth ride, with up to 50,000 primary and high school teachers protesting against their pay in May 2019 - considered to be the largest industrial action New Zealand has ever seen.