Newshub Nation: New Associate Education Minister Jo Luxton defends 20 hours early childhood education viability for parents

Twenty free hours of early childhood education (ECE) care for two-year-olds was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the Government's Budget, but a month later the sector is rebelling, families are confused, and new Associate Education Minister Jo Luxton is working double-time to sort it out. 

Luxton stands by the funding and said she's "very proud of this policy".

"What we wanted to achieve with this policy is to ease the cost of living pressures on families right now, and we will achieve it through this policy."

That's despite 90 percent of the sector telling her it's not workable. 

"I don't think it's a backdown, I think it's a tweak to a policy proposal," she said.

Luxton said that feedback was always expected. 

"That's why the wording wasn't going to be finalized till July."

She claimed, "we've listened to the sector and we've supported the issue that they raised".

Many in the sector say that there is still insufficient consultation, with no consultation prior to the announcement, one meeting post-Budget, and some regular meetings after that. 

Luxton stands by Budget announcement confidentiality meaning pre-Budget consultation is not viable. 

She said that Aotearoa's early childhood education (ECE) fees are some of the highest in the world and that through the new funding model, the Government is working to ease cost of living pressures on Kiwi parents. 

"We don't want to see centres go under, which is why we've tweaked the part that they felt was the real sticky issue, the 20 hours enrollment only."

Many in the sector have claimed that the Government is distorting the reality of the funding by calling it 20 hours of free ECE because most centres have to top it up and charge optional extras. 

However, Luxton said, "It should be free".

"There should be no charges for parents for the 20 hours itself. Centres can certainly ask for optional charges, and centres consistently charge out for fees for other hours whichever way they wish."

There are calls for the 20 hours to be called a subsidy instead of being called free, but Luxton said it has already been working for three to five-year-olds since it was introduced in 2007.

"This is simply an extension of that," she said.

"The issue they raised with us was the 20 hours enrollment only. We listened to them because they said that was the sticky point."

However, Te Rito Maioha chief executive Kathy Wolfe said that the solution to the sector's concerns is "as clear as mud".

"While the Government has decided to remove the requirement for services to allow enrolments for only the hours of 20 Hour ECE, it's not clear how the policy of providing that service is to be charged to parents," Wolfe said. 

There are also concerns the limited funding could lead to unsafe conditions for children, with the subsidy only providing for one teacher for 10 two-year-olds. 

"That is the current ratio as it stands at the moment and that is something that we are going to look at," Luxton said.

A review of teacher-child ratios is in an Early Learning Action Plan.

Luxton was previously in the ECE sector herself, owning and running her own centre, and she claims she managed to do so without charging parents over and above the subsidies provided. 

"The business model that we used, we didn't charge additional charges. 

"Parents could enrol for 20 hours if they wished to do so."

However, Luxton acknowledges that costs have risen since she sold her centre in 2019.

"Costs have risen, yes, absolutely agree with that, but so has the funding that this Government has put into the sector."

While a review of teaching ratio levels is on the agenda, Luxton said she is "confident that centres are staffing their centres to the abilities and the best practice that they see they can do in their own centres".

"I think this is a fantastic policy because it is going to reduce barriers to early childhood education and it is going to ease the cost of pressures on families," she said.

Watch the full video for more. 

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