Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Labour backtrack over Private Early Childhood Education

In the 2004 Budget Labour announced that from 2007 three and four year old children would be entitled to 20 hours a week of free education at a community-owned early childhood service.

Now Labour have backtracked, with the annoucement they will also fund 20 hours free education at privately owned early childhood centres. It needs to be asked why Labour is further embedding the privatisation of education when so many public education services continue to be underfunded.

It is a real shame Labour did not defend their original policy, as there are many clear reasons for discriminating in favour of community owned services. Community-based services cannot distribute financial gains to their members. They are usually charitable trusts, community organisations or incorporated societies. In funding such services there is a higher chance this money will be used for the benefit of the kids, instead of being misdirected into private profits and over the top capital building plans. Perhaps the real reason National and their right wing friends complained so bitterly about Labour discriminating in favour of community based services, is that the right wanted to distribute public money as financial gains to their members?

The increasing presence of large multinational chains is turning child care into a branded big business, made up of companies expected to provide returns to shareholders. The insidiously named Kidicorp is listed on the NZ stock exchange, owned by a mix of NZ and Australian interests.

There is also a clear educational rationale for favouring community-owned services over for-profit centres, as Linda Mitchell'’s NZCER research shows that community owned and run centres provide a better quality education.

While it is true there many be a shortage of community-owned centres in some areas, this is in part due to the early childhood policies of the previous National government, policies that led to the closure of manykindergartens and other not-for-profit ECE services. The 2005 Budget also provided funding to build some 55 to 65 new community-based services over the next four years, meaning that "the shortage" is far from an insurmountable problem.

The response of the NZEI Te Ria Roa to Mallard's u-turn is interesting. While they were "pleased" more children would benefit from free ECE, they also hinted that at clear differences between the community-owned and for-profit education centres.
"The 'not for profit' part of the early childhood sector has shown a commitment to providing quality education by employing qualified teachers and by implementing pay parity, With the extension of funding for free early childhood education to private centres the onus is now on them to show the same commitment to providing quality education as the community-owned centres," says NZEI Te Riu Roa National President, Colin Tarr.

It is a real irony Labour quite rightly rejects calls to introduce a voucher system into primary and secondary education, yet Mallard's latest backtrack only embeds an effective voucher system in early childhood education. The same could be said for their reluctance to restrict public funding to PTEs profiting from tertiary education.

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