Primary teachers are urging the government not to cut funding for early childhood education, after ministers signalled there would be changes in next month's budget.
They are promising to continue providing 20 hours early childhood education a week but they aren't ruling out changes that could mean parents paying more.
The scheme was introduced by the previous government as 20 hours free early childhood education, but is actually a subsidy.
Education Minister Anne Tolley said yesterday the cost of providing it had nearly trebled over the last five years and was projected to continue rising at about $200 million a year.
"Twenty hours has never been free, we changed the name to 20 hours early childhood education because it was quite clear that parents were being charged for all sorts of other things," she said.
"I think there are cost pressures in early childhood education that are not necessarily adding to the quality of provision."
Mrs Tolley said there was unequal uptake, with poor families losing out.
Asked whether she intended means testing parents, Mrs Tolley said "wait for the budget".
Prime Minister John Key said "we're looking at the scheme" and also told reporters they would have to wait for the May 20 budget to find out more.
The primary teachers union NZEI, which represents early childhood teachers, said early childhood education was an investment, not a means to balance the government's books.
"What the Government doesn't seem to recognise is that the money spent on early childhood education over recent years has gone into raising quality, and making it more accessible for families," said NZEI vice president Judith Nowotarski.
"NZEI believes the Government is slowly chipping away at quality early childhood education."
The New Zealand Childcare Association (NZCA) said safeguarding early childhood education should be a major concern for parents.
"Funding cuts will increase the fees charged to parents, force centres to cut costs and pose a barrier to the families that would benefit most from high quality early childhood education," said NZCA chief executive Nancy Bell.
"The Government spending on early childhood education may have trebled, but New Zealand still lags behind the OECD average per capita expenditure. If it is reduced further, then quality will suffer."
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