Government funding system changes look set to happen for the ECE sector and quite possibly before the next general election.
Change started during National’s previous term with the deletion of the word ‘free’ from the 20 Hours Free ECE funding policy and removal of the top tier of funding for 100% qualified and registered teachers. The ECE Taskforce provided a smokescreen for the Government by giving the sector a sense of engagement and helping to prime people into accepting that Government desired to and would take much firmer control of increasing expenditure on ECE and reshape its investment in ECE.
The ground has now been prepared by Government for tweaking major parts of the ECE system or possibly (though less likely) totally changing how it funds early childcare and education.
Specifications for a tweaked or a new ECE funding system could be that it:
- is based on thorough research of effects, and underpinned by careful economic, social and educational policy analysis;
- is good or better for children than the current funding system;
- supports parents to spend time with their children and engage in effective parenting; and
- is in line with this government’s financial objectives ( i.e. to reduce the overall spending on ECE and institute tighter controls on expenditure).
Of the above specifications, indications so far are that meeting government’s financial objectives is the primary goal.
During June and July 2012 the Ministry of Education is running plans for funding changes past a small group of nine people, most of whom are lobbyists and/or ECE providers, to encourage buy-in and test for adverse reactions before implementation. The last thing Government probably wants is criticism that could turn ECE into a major election issue.
Limiting advice, input and feedback on funding changes to only nine people (and any employers and boards whom these people may report to) is not sufficient testing of acceptance by the whole of the ECE sector and unlikely to be sufficient for prior identification of any or all of the possible fish hooks and problems.
The Ministry of Education has responsibility to generate sound advice for the Minister of Education. Extensive policy analysis, through the production of policy papers, along with gaining information and insights from other early childhood systems and countries may be seen to be important for this. Any changes to the way Government funds ECE should be evidence-based and take into account possible and likely effects on children, other family members and parenting along with economic and social concerns such as parents’ labour force participation and the economic self-sufficiency of low-skilled parents and low-income households.