The early childhood sector is hopeful but not confident in the Government ahead of Thursday's Budget.
There are worries the Government feels on safe ground to exercise spending restraint and considers that fixing problems in early childhood education can be left last in the queue behind hospitals, schools, and other sectors.
The big question for Thursday is will Labour honour its promise to fund 100 percent qualified teachers starting from this year or put it off until perhaps the Budget before the next election?
Dr Sarah Alexander, chief executive of ChildForum said that the sector is hopeful.
“There is more positivity in the early childhood sector and faith in the government than I have seen for a long time. However, that could change very quickly if Budget 2018 gives rise to disappointment.
“Minister Hipkins' comments to us suggest a possibility that early childhood education could be made to wait for improvements.”
The Minister of Education Chris Hipkins told ChildForum that he does not “have any current intentions to make significant ECE policy changes before the Government’s 10-Year Early Learning Strategic Plan is finalised in December.”
He said that new spending to implement election promises such as 100 percent qualified teachers, reducing group size, and improving ratios is not a decision that can be easily made.
“Funding decisions over this term of Government are a matter for successive Budgets. But the terms of reference for the development of the Strategic Plan make it clear that, over time, this Government’s aim is to achieve 100% qualified teachers in all centre-based teacher-led early learning services and to improve group size and teacher: child ratios for infants and toddlers,” he said.
But In its pre-election fiscal plan, Labour outlined that it would increase funds for 100 percent qualified teachers in early childhood education by $33 million for June 2018 – June 2019.
If Labour intends to keep to its fiscal plan the announcement of funding is likely to be made this week as part of Budget 2018, before the Early Learning Strategic Plan is even drafted.
Labour’s pre-election fiscal plan also included an additional $74 million and $86 million in funds for 100 percent qualified teachers for the two years following.
Nicola Willis, National’s spokesperson for ECE, says that any delay in Labour delivering the commitments for early childhood education that it campaigned on will be viewed as a breach of faith by the sector.
“Labour were able to deliver on their expensive tertiary fees-free policy within their first 100 days of office so this is a matter of priorities,” she said.
An opinion survey run over the last week in April by ChildForum, has revealed that an increase in subsidies is what the early childhood sector considers the key priority for Government must be in this Budget. The next two most important priorities should be to improve adult to child ratios and fund 100 percent qualified teachers in teacher-led services.
“It will be a bitter pill for many people in the early childhood sector to swallow if there is no major increase in subsidy payments and funding to raise staffing standards,” said Dr Sarah Alexander.
Dr Alexander added that the survey results provide an interesting window into the diverse needs in the sector and as yet it is not clear that the Government has a good understanding and appreciation of these differences.
“For example, while there are very strong arguments for 100 percent qualified teachers in teacher-led services, not all people think it could work. The government needs to show it understands this and act to reduce the chance of any unintended consequences if/when funding for 100 percent qualified teachers is brought in.”
The government currently spends approximately $1.8 billion per year on subsidies to the early childhood sector according to Mr Hipkins.
He said that changes to funding and regulatory arrangements could have significant fiscal implications and that he would first need to consider both the “efficiency and effectiveness of any changes and seek cabinet approval before any changes are introduced.”
See what people in the Early Childhood Sector say about
- Whether the government is taking early childhood education in the right direction.
- If things are expected to improve for the sector over the next 12 months.
- What the Government’s top priorities for the forthcoming Budget should be.
> In the latest "Confidence and Funding Report" (to be released on Wednesday 16 May 2018 - please check back here or Contact Us for a copy)