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The early childhood education funding systems in New Zealand and Australia look set to change.  It will be fascinating to see which country ends up with the better system.  But neither country can expect to see the last of major change, unless political parties when in government are prepared to stand outside of the square, by for example, developing a funding system which has cross-party agreement and which is fundamentally best for children and families and not influenced by any lobbyists it is cosy with.

The Australian government is currently considering changes to its early childhood education sector with ideas including changing the way ECE centres are paid and subsidising staff pay. Last month Prime Minister Julia Gillard held an emergency summit with unions and employers and agreed that parents needed some relief as childcare costs continue to rise across the country. It is recognised also that government must intervene to increase the number of early childhood places available to better support working parents with access to regulated childcare for the hours that they need. An Early Childhood Education and Care Forum has now been established to discuss ways to make childcare more affordable and maintain high quality standards.

While the Australian government is likely to be spending significantly more on ECE in the future to make childcare more affordable and open up more childcare places across the board for working parents, the New Zealand government is planning to tighten expenditure on ECE and focus its spending more on getting Maori, Pasifika and children from low-income homes into mainstream childcare services. A redesign of the current funding system in NZ could see childcare fees returning to a pre-2007 level; when the average cost of ECE to families was much higher than it is today.

A funding advisory group, comprising mainly of lobbyists and some ECE service representatives, has been funded by the Ministry to meet with them to feed into the formulation of policy advice for the Minister. The minutes of the Ministry’s last ECAC meeting mentions that the members of the funding advisory group will continue to play a role over time in the development of the new funding system. While the Ministry has stated that the advice will not be in lieu of consultation (we are not sure if this means public consultation), members of the group (if they wish) have already been able to give a private heads-up on proposals going to the Minister of Education to the people they work for or those whose interests they are representing. The new ECE funding system in NZ is being planned to be in place in 2015. The Ministry of Education says the key elements considered in the review of the funding system are:

  1. The costs associated with enrolling/attracting Maori, Pasifika and low income families to licensed ECE
  2. Fees and fee controls, outside of 20 Hours ECE
  3. Who the Ministry will pay (e.g. parents, service owners, or other agencies) and what the Ministry (via Vote:Education and govt revenue from taxpayers) are going to pay for going forward.  {jcomments on}

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