Almost half of New Zealand preschools are charging parents
for what is supposed to be a free government-funded service,
according to a Herald on Sunday investigation.
Under 20 hours early childhood education rules, childcare
centres and preschools must not charge parents any fees, but
we have discovered that many providers are exploiting two
loopholes to boost revenue at parents' expense.
We surveyed more than 300 providers. In their responses, 45
per cent said they topped up their government funding either
through "optional charges" for specific extras, compulsory
extra hours, or both. Education Minister Hekia Parata advised
unhappy parents to shop around. Early childhood education "is
provided by private organisations, therefore the Government
has no control over the fees they charge. Parents obviously
have choices around early childhood education options."
Parata's comments drew scathing responses from parents in
small towns where there is little choice.
Mum-of-three Belinda Evans, from Colville in the north of the
Coromandel Peninsula, says she has no option but to send her
4-year-old son to the local preschool.
"If we didn't use the local facilities I would have a 30
minute drive to the next childcare centre, so shopping around
simply isn't on. Fortunately, I only have to pay an optional
charge of $10 every month to cover things like popcorn or
Rebecca Schwass, from Te Puke, says she is lucky to get free
childcare for her son at a local Barnardos kindy.
"Comments about shopping around don't make sense for people
in small or out-of-the-way communities," she says. "It is not
like we live in the middle of Wellington or Auckland where it
might be a lot easier to pick and choose."
About 91 per cent of preschools have signed up to the 20
hours scheme, launched by Labour as "20 hours free" in 2007.
National quietly dropped the word "free" in 2009, but centres
are still prohibited from charging.
Parata said: "Parents must not be charged for 20 hours [at
centres]. The Ministry of Education investigates all alleged
breaches of funding."
Our survey found some centres aren't giving parents a choice,
and "optional" charges - for costs such as lunches, extra
staffing, sunblock - are often compulsory.
Education Ministry ECE group manager Karl Le Quesne urged
parents being forced to pay optional charges to contact the
ministry. "Parents can't be required to pay that and if a
service is requiring parents to pay that then we want to
However, the ministry did not interfere with centres
requiring children to be enrolled for a minimum number of
Labour spokeswoman Sue Moroney said the rules needed
tightening. Many providers were making up for the squeeze on
funding but some were focusing on profits.
- by Kathryn Powley of the Herald on Sunday