Friday, August 12, 2011

Killing 20 hours free

20 hours free ECE, introduced by the previous Labour government, is one of the great levellers. It ensures a fair start for everyone regardless of wealth, boosts workforce participation by making working affordable for parents, and is a long-term investment in the next generation. Now National looks to set to end it. Oh, they'll retain the 20 hours; they just won't be free anymore:

[Key] initially said the Government's position was that it would be maintaining the 20 free hours policy. But under further questioning he changed his stance saying he was committed to keeping the same subsidies for 20 hours' early childhood education but was not committed to keeping the fee controls for the scheme.

Ms Moroney said the implication was that the Government planned to allow centres to start charging extra fees for 20 hours which basically meant the end to the scheme.

"The only reason you would do that is if you are going to drop the subsidy."

Without the fee cap, 20 hours free goes from being a universal scheme which benefits everyone to a middle-class subsidy which excludes the very people who need it most. And by reducing access, the benefits of the scheme - that fair start for everyone, the access to the workplace, and the long-term boost to education, health and social outcomes - will be reduced. It will be bad for children, bad for families, and bad for New Zealand.

SO why is National doing this? One reason is that it will be good for private ECE providers, who will be able to access a subsidy while still charging fees. But I think the bigger problem is National's entire attitude to ECE. They see it as babysitting rather than education, and a cost rather than an investment. Those attitudes, that narrow, short-term currency-trader approach, are going to condemn another generation of kiwi kids - and the country as a whole - to poor social outcomes for years to come.