Thursday, August 12, 2010

Standing up for ECE

Earlier in the year, the government cut $400 million from the early childhood education budget by capping the subsidy for qualified teaching staff. The result will be to systematically underfund centres, forcing them to either withdraw from the 20 hours free scheme so they can charge fees (which is what the government really wants), or offer lower quality education. On an individual level, it means that parents will be forced to pay an extra $40 a week for the same service.

I've blogged elsewhere about why this cut is a bad idea (short version: ECE makes a difference. It levels inequalities. Children who receive it grow up healthier and richer than those who don't - which is an outcome we all have an interest in promoting). But its the latter point which really stinks. Effectively, New Zealand's parents are being asked to pay for a substantial portion of National's tax cuts for the rich. The cuts are effectively a transfer from ordinary parents to a small clique of the uber-wealthy.

Fortunately the victims of this funding cut aren't taking it lying down, and have organised a national protest campaign against it:

This week, 50,000 postcards are being sent to centres around the country for parents to sign and send to the Prime Minister, and Tauranga educators are planning a march for Saturday, August 28, which they hope will attract hundreds of people.

In South Auckland, Finlayson Park Childcare Centre staff and children have created large canvas artworks which parents yesterday wrote messages on and plan to send to representatives of the National, Labour and Maori parties.

The messages included comments such as: "Everybody deserves the best possible start and this is where it begins - early childhood education."

This is something we should all support. Even those of us who aren't parents and never intend to be have an interest in ensuring that children get the best possible start in life.

Meanwhile, National has made an enemy of every parent and future parent in New Zealand with this policy. And its worth remembering that under MMP, even the strongest government is only 5% and a coalition realignment away from opposition. The parents of the 93,000 children affected by this cut are that 5%, right there. The real way to stand up for ECE is at the ballot-box next year.