By Kate Chapman of NZPA
Wellington, May 20 NZPA - The parents of tens of thousands of children face increased costs for early childhood education (ECE).
Estimates of the possible fee increase range from $25-$42 a week per child after the budget was released today.
The ECE scheme was introduced by the previous Labour government and paid for 20 hours childcare a week.
Figures in the budget show an extra $107 million would be spent on ECE in 2010-11, increasing the annual investment in ECE to $1.3 billion.
However, the Government also plans to save $295m by reducing the financial incentive to have over 80 percent of teachers registered.
Currently, ECE providers are encouraged to have up to 100 percent registered teachers and get higher funding for them.
That was cut with this budget.
From February, the funding rate will be lowered and only given up to 80 percent of a provider's registered teachers.
The result is little incentive for providers to have more than 80 percent.
Of the 4300 ECE providers, 2000 have more than 80 percent registered teachers.
Education Minister Anne Tolley said the changes were aimed at redirecting funding and managing rapidly rising costs.
"Government values quality early childhood education and the contribution it makes to a good start for our children's education," she said.
Prime Minister John Key said some providers may choose to stay with over 80 percent registered teachers and "potentially increase fees".
"But I think you will see less of an increase there than some may predict.
"It's a highly competitive sector so you may well see some organisations decide they will cover the cost themselves, others may over time move to be 80 percent (registered) teacher led," Mr Key said.
"We've kept our commitment around 20 free hours and for the vast bulk of parents I don't think they will be terribly affected."
New Zealand Educational Institute vice-president Judith Nowotarski said parents of 92,000 children in the 200 centres would be left to pick up the funding shortfall.
It was "yet another attack on efforts to improve quality in the sector", she said.
The change would see a funding shortfall of $30 per child a week, Ms Nowotarski said.
"This is going to be costly for children and their families, and it's a kick in the guts for the people who have worked hardest to provide quality for our youngest citizens."
The boost for Maori and Pacific Island children was welcome but not at the expense of quality teaching, she said.
Childcare Association chief executive Nancy Bell said funding would drop by up to $42 per child a week.
Providers with 50 children would lose $109,000 a year in funding and more than 93,000 children would be affected, she said.
"Most parents will simply not be able to afford these changes and this will lead to children being taken out of ECE."
Some providers would be forced to reduce their teaching staff, especially registered teachers who were the "cornerstone of quality in early childhood".
Labour leader Phil Goff said fees would have to increase or the quality of ECE be reduced to accommodate the changes. He said it would cost $25 per child a week.
Mrs Tolley said extra funding of $91.8m over four years would be poured into five "intensive, community-led participation projects".
They would focus on high priority areas and would be similar to existing projects in Counties Manukau and Tamaki.
"We know Maori and Pasifika children, and children from lower socioeconomic areas, benefit most from ECE, but they are the least likely to be involved," Mrs Tolley said.
The six-hour daily limit would be lifted allowing children to intensify their weekly ECE hours and the Government would increase the non-staff portion of ECE funding, and provide funding for parent engagement programmes.