Why parents should be concerned about early learning funding

Funding for our early learning centres hasn’t increased much for over a decade. If that doesn’t change soon, many may go to the wall. Some already have.

Early learning centre and kindergarten teachers do the same jobs with the same qualifications, but kindy teachers are paid significantly more. It’s a “haves and have-not’s” model that puts the quality of education and care New Zealand children receive at risk.

If you care about early learning in New Zealand, help us spread the word.

Wages make up 77% of the average centres’ operating budget, which doesn’t leave much left over for costs like building maintenance and teaching resources, which for many have reluctantly been neglected while they’re trying to balance the books and keep their doors open.

By the numbers

  • Early learning centres receive 16% less funding than kindergartens
  • The average centre has lost $120,000 in revenue over the last decade
  • 69% of children enrolled in early learning are in ECE centres

In 2012, Education Minister Hekia Parata froze teacher subsidies for early learning centres in order to ‘better target funding.’ They haven’t changed since.

Meanwhile, kindergarten subsidies have kept climbing, because their teachers’ pay is automatically linked to primary school teacher pay. 

The early learning sector has been asking successive governments to listen and take action, only for officials to turn their backs.

In the 2020 budget, the government invested $150m to start addressing teacher pay parity, which was welcomed by the early learning community, despite the lack of detail on next steps.

But the unfair pay gap remains, as kindergarten teacher salaries keeping going up to match primary teachers, who won an 18.5% increase only in 2019. Many in the sector are concerned early learning centre teacher wages will never catch up.

Many centres already pay their teachers and staff well over the minimum rates, to reward their staff properly, and attract and retain talent in the middle of a severe ECE teacher shortage. The government initially said centres already paying above the minimum rates could use the funds in this way, but then tried to go back on its word.

Providers are facing a stark choice of rewarding their teachers or keeping their centres well-resourced and solvent.

What’s the answer? We’re calling for all funding increases to be split at 70% for teacher wages, and 30% for centre operational costs to address this crisis now.

This puts a band aid on centre budgets, and allows parents to keep sending their children to the provider they prefer. Without any relief, many centres are likely to go under after the decade of underfunding, capped off by the financial hit of the pandemic.

Long term, the broken ECE funding model must be fully reviewed and reformed. The system is inherently unfair, opaque and doesn’t drive optimal education and care outcomes for New Zealand children.

The government needs to act now to give providers hope their centres will survive in the short-term, and realise the long-term promise of an ECE funding system that’s fair and transparent.

The current funding system is broken. It must be fixed before the centres that care for and educate our tamariki have to shut their doors for good.