Fees may rise for under-5s' education
By JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 29/04/2010

Some parents might have to pay more for early childhood education after funding changes, Prime Minister John Key says.

The Government insisted yesterday that the policy of 20 hours of free early childhood education would be unaffected, but Mr Key revealed the Government was looking at the scheme.

"We are very cognisant of the huge increase in costs there and also cognisant of the benefits that come from that and we're considering some matters," Mr Key said.

It was possible some parents would have to pay more for early childhood education.

The Government has maintained and extended a subsidy for three, four and five-year-olds to attend 20 hours of free early childhood education each week. The policy is meant to boost numbers, especially of Maori and Pacific Island children, in centres.

The cost of early childhood education to the taxpayer has grown from $428.4 million in 2004-05 to $1.15 billion in 2009-10. However, participation rates in low-income areas remain low.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said cost pressures in the sector were not helping to improve participation rates. "We have to put some resources into improving participation. There are communities around the country that we want to focus on with that work and that's required us to have a look at what is driving the cost pressures in ECE."

Earlier this year, she said the Government was trialling different early childhood activities in areas with low rates of participation.

"There has been work with some of the community champions and there has been some different types of early childhood development and that is meeting some cultural needs," Mrs Tolley said.

The areas of most concern for participation rates are in South Auckland, Porirua and parts of Christchurch.

More details are expected in the May 20 Budget.

New Zealand Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said any funding cuts would reduce the quality of services.

"Funding cuts will increase the fees charged to parents, force centres to cut costs and pose a barrier to the families that would benefit most from high-quality ECE," Mrs Bell said.

Labour Party spokeswoman Sue Moroney said funding changes would put early childhood on a "slippery slope". "How on earth can the Government grow the sector and contain costs?"

From here.