I’ve previously outlined the case for quality early childhood education in the Otago Daily Times.
The group synthesised current literature on the sector, and made some sensible recommendations. There is a healthy emphasis on capturing the benefits that flow from targeted early intervention.
But, in many ways it is a disappointing report. It is set up to be so. The group was appointed with a limited mandate. They were only to examine the best use of existing funding within the early childhood sector. This is crazy – as the group reiterated in their report: there is ample evidence that investment in the sector brings strong returns to our society. But further funding was ruled out from the start. The group had to work within the constraints of an environment where cuts have already been made.
The essay within the report proposing new funding mechanisms aligns with the current Government’s privatisation agenda. Centres will set fees according to parents’ perceived ‘ability to pay’. Providers will no longer be required to provide 20 hours free quality early childhood education.
The proposed new funding model, and associated justifications, are captured in the extracted table below:
Although the full detail is not fully explained, it appears that providers will be responsible for deciding just which child qualifies for which subsidy. Different rates will apply according to parents’ income, ethnicity and other variables. Where parents’ income is tested, it’s easy to imagine funding anomalies that parallel those connected to university student allowances. Centre managers may be responsible for making judgments about socio-economic need of parents and children. What was once a welcoming relationship appears set to become something more judgmental.
The Labour Government’s model provided access to 20 hours free quality early childhood education for all citizens. What is clear with the new model, is that this money will be spread far more thinly, and parents will be expected to pay far more. If under twos are included and more hours are to be subsidised, the subsidy will not stretch as far. Barriers to accessing education and care for our children will grow.
The report correctly identifies that investment in quality early childhood education is one of the best a country can make. I agree. I think we can do better.