Budget 2021: Early Childhood Council calls on Government to step up with funding as centres close doors

The Early Childhood Council is calling on the Government to step up with funding in this year's Budget, as centres close their doors throughout New Zealand due to massive financial strain.

It's been a decade since the Government froze early childhood education funding. It's received two funding increases since then but the sector says they were both well below the rate of inflation.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds says the situation has become so dire there could soon be weekly childhood centre closures - and it's past the point of desperation.

According to Ministry of Education data, centre closures have been rising steadily from 17 in 2016 to 40 in 2020. 

"It's just limiting the choices that parents have and it's having a major impact on the children, who would otherwise have been participating in those centres," Reynolds told The AM Show on Tuesday.

He said the cost to operate a childcare centre in the past decade has continued to increase but Government funding hasn't.

"Over that entire period, we've seen rents go up, we've seen materials and resources go up - all of the same sorts of expenses many households have had to face, childcare centres face as well."

Reynolds said the idea of increasing costs and asking parents to foot the bill is abhorrent.

"Parents can't afford to pay more. In some communities, they can't afford to pay anything at all.

"In some communities, a child going to childcare [and] getting a lunch is probably one of the best meals they'll have in the day."

The Early Childhood Council is calling on the Government, in this year's Budget, to split any potential early learning funding increase at 70 percent for teacher pay and 30 per cent for centres' operational costs, allowing investment resources and maintenance. 

Reynolds said they understand Education Minister Chris Hipkins will fund another increase in the teacher pay parity area but nothing else. The Budget is set to be revealed later this month. 

Hipkins' office has been contacted for comment.