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l'enfer du North Island

  this aspect of ECE funding is seldom discussed Wednesday, 7 March 2012 link

Prompted by this article on soaring demand for early childhood education in Wellington, I thought I'd talk about a major hole with the current government's attitude to ECE.

For the past five years, I've been on the governing committee of the childcare centre my daughters attend (four of those years as the secretary of the committee). In the last few years, funding for ECE has slowly been cut. Now, the centre has two primary means of income: the subsidy paid by the Ministry of Education, and the fees paid by the parents. We're a not-for-profit centre, so our fees are low compared to the many for-profit centres springing up. Even so, many parents are struggling to meet the fees. And last night I found out that the grant amount has been set to a static value. It does not raise with inflation. This means that as the cost of living increases, the centre's expenses go up - and the only income that can increase is the fees. And so the fees have to increase at a rate significantly higher than the cost of living increase, because they have to take up the slack from the static MoE grants.

This means that fees are rising everywhere, and significantly above the rate of inflation. Low income families are being priced out of early childhood education. These are the families that are most likely to benefit from early childhood education. The net result is to increase social stratification, as the comfortable middle class - like myself - do without a few luxuries to keep affording childcare, while those less financially well off run into serious problems. Early childhood education helps smooth out academic disparities when children get into school: the current government seems intent on ossifying these disparities in place.

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