The investment in ECE from the 2020 Budget pales in comparison to the overall 2020 stimulus spend. Educators will still struggle financially, physically and mentally, as the underlying issues remain.
What needs to change?
TOP would spend $1 billion in its first term on community-oriented ECE, as we understand the value of this sector. ECE is TOP’s educational priority. We know that healthy child development provides the foundation for a prosperous and sustainable society.
The evidence is clear that the return on investment for society is much higher when we invest in children early. Done well, early childhood education can shape social, emotional and academic outcomes, improve equity, and build strong communities and healthy families.
TOP’s proposal is to invest in a ‘care and community’ approach to ECE. We will create a system that cares for its educators (teachers, parents, whanau). This will enable educators to care for children so their learning can flourish. This ‘care’ is best achieved at the community level. TOP would adjust the subsidies to reflect a greater emphasis on community-oriented ECE, such as Kindergartens, home-based care, Playcentres, Te Kōhanga Reo, community-oriented education and care services and playgroups.
TOP’s universal basic income (UBI) policy also gives $13,000 per annum to every 18-64 year old New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and $2,080 per child (paid to the parent). A UBI would give parents and teachers more choice about where and when to work, and what sort of ‘education’ to give their 0-6 year old children.
TOP’s assessment of the 2020 ECE budget
ECE has experienced two decades of underfunding. Teachers also had low expectations for 2020, because of the cost of covid19. This budget gives $320 million over four years (or $80 million per year). When compared to $72.5 million for the racing industry (NZ First’s major funder), $4 billion for DHBs, and a $50 billion budgetary allocation in 2020 overall, the ‘ínvestment’ in our youngest citizens is paltry and embarrassing. As usual, the government is all talk and very little action.
Education & Care Teachers on minimum levels of pay will get pay parity with kindergarten teachers (costing $151 million). This commitment to pay parity for ECE teachers is long-overdue and welcomed by the sector. But, the government currently has no way to ensure extra funding goes to teacher salaries rather than shareholders pockets (apart from at the minimum level of pay). So, in the meantime more qualified teachers will be paid nearer to the minimum rate. The Minister says they’re working on it, and TOP hopes they keep up this work.
Currently most of the ECE funding goes to private services, because they dominate the sector. Between 2018 and 2020, Education & Care services have received an almost 4% increase in operating costs. Some centres may use this to pay their qualified teachers more, but it’s unusual for corporate ECEs to take this approach.
Sold as a 'big win' for 2020 was Playcentre's 7.6% rise in subsidies, costing a mere $3 million. Again, the government is all talk and little understanding, as Playcentres will have to close as a result of this meager increase.
Once considered mainstream, Playcentre has been increasingly marginalised by policy decisions. Playcentre educates 7% of preschoolers and received less than 1% of the ECE budget. With 400 Playcentres in New Zealand, 9500 children attending, the ignorance of government to the value of playcentre is disappointing.
Parents who voluntarily accompany their children to ECE, undertake ECE education and forego wages and careers should be valued by our society for the effort they are expending on behalf of future generations. Playcentres grow whole communities, and this needs to be valued within the system. Playcentres should certainly be able to afford cleaners and administrative support to ease the burden for these valuable educators of our tamariki. TOP wants to see playcentre numbers increase post-covid19. While TOPs UBI package will help families, government must offer greater financial support to Playcentres themselves.
Another targeted investment was $36 million for home-based care, to improve the professionalism of the home-based care sector. Given the post-covid unemployment rates, TOP would have invested significantly more in upskilling existing and new home-based carers, and paying them accordingly. Again, the government needs to find a way to ensure the funds go to teacher salaries, to avoid the issues witnessed in the corporatisation of Education & Care services. Home-based care offers an important community-oriented alternative to centre-based care.
Disappointingly, there was no announcement for playgroups. With rising unemployment post-covid, a UBI would help more parents spend time with their children. Playgroups are a good place to start to learn about child development, without the pressure of administrative and qualification requirements. The intrinsic value of parents as educators also needs to be acknowledged within the funding system. TOP would have doubled the subsidies for playgroups.
From a different area of the 2020 budget, a significant much-needed investment was $200 million over four years for Te Kōhanga Reo. This will make a big difference to ensure staff are adequately paid and facilities are improved. There are currently 440 Te Kōhanga Reo services with 8500 children attending. TOP agrees this investment is needed to revitalise child wellbeing in previously under-resourced communities.
Finally, the Minister indicated that the underlying issues associated with centre-based care, such as group sizes, space allocations and ratios will be addressed in the mid to latter half of the 10 year strategic plan. This is simply not soon enough. A lot needs to urgently change in this area, and TOP has some ideas around this.
Overall, TOP thinks the 2020 budget for ECE was an improvement on ECE budgets over the last 20 years, but is a drop in the water in terms of rectifying past marginalisation of this sector. $80 million per year for four years is a far cry from what is needed if we truly value quality in ECE.
Dr Naomi Pocock is the Education Spokesperson and Hamilton West Candidate for TOP.