Why will some parents pay more in fees because their child is attending a kindergarten that has decided to offer 20 free hours of early childhood education?
I am not aware of any instance where parents who use their 20 free hours at a service that is a member of a kindergarten association would pay more fees.
Why does the Minister pretend that 20 hours free is free, when parents will pay for the policy through increased fees overall, reductions in service quality, and cross-subsidies from other preschooler-aged groups?
What advice has the Minister received about a proposal to abolish free early childhood education and reimpose fees on thousands of New Zealand families?
My understanding is that there is a secret plan to that effect but it is being kept quiet at this moment. The aim at the moment is to sabotage free early childhood education and deny parents savings they would gain from it. But I know that as this policy proves to be the success we all know it will be, on the National Party side they will undoubtedly come around to John Key’s view that they have to flip-flop and support 20 hours free.
How can free be free when some parents will pay more for 20 hours free than they pay for early childhood education at present, and how can the Minister stand in the House and say he is not aware of any examples, when he needs only to read a newspaper or his in-tray of correspondence?
As the member knows, 20 hours free means free. However, of course, as part of the policy there is an acknowledgment that in some centres they do things above the regulated level of quality education. So in some cases people offer an optional charge to be paid for some of those services. However, 20 hours free is 20 hours free.
Does the Minister know that the word “free” usually means no payment whatsoever, and how does he reconcile his own definition with the number of centres up and down the country that are planning to recoup costs by seeking charges from parents, reducing quality, and, in some cases, asking workers to take a pay cut?
If the member has an example of that, she might like to bring it to my attention, because one of the things we are doing is visiting centres where they are not clear, and making sure that they are. For example, I thought that today the member might have raised the example of a private service that has identified itself as a kindergarten, since she has been asking questions about it. It is identifying itself as offering a surcharge of $20 a day. It previously charged $36. I have asked my officials to have a chat with that centre to make sure it understands that 20 hours free means 20 hours free, and that optional charges have to be genuinely additional and they have to be explained and agreed to by the parent.
Why do high-quality, responsible early childhood education centres, like The Treehouse Private Kindergarten in Tauranga, have to bend the free rules by announcing to parents that they will receive 20 free hours per week with a top-up quality education surcharge of $20 per day to cover things such as interesting and educational guests, and a beautiful and aesthetic learning environment; and how is this free?
I know that the member had lined up that question and therefore did not listen to my answer previously on this very centre, so let me just repeat it. That centre is asking for a $20 surcharge and has identified a range of services that it believes are above the regulated level that it wants to provide. I have asked the Ministry of Education to drop by and have a chat with the people at the centre to make sure they understand that 20 hours free is free and that optional charges have to be agreed to by parents.
As it is merely one example, if 20 free hours is really free, why has The Treehouse increased its fees for 2-year-olds, charging $20 per day for 3 and 4-year-olds, and why do those people on a Work and Income subsidy who were getting their early childhood education for free now have to pay $20 a day, as for them 20 hours free has simply morphed into $20?
I have no doubt there are some centres that are confused about this policy, given that Miss Bennett herself has been moving around the country trying to undermine it. As I said, I am well aware of this particular example. It is the only example the Opposition is giving today, and the ministry will be going to see the centre. But I say to the member too that I do appreciate her recent visit to Gisborne. As a result of her visit the number of people in free early childhood education has gone up. If she wants help to go to any other centre, I am more than happy to help.
Is the Minister not concerned that he is enhancing his reputation for being unnecessarily tricky, given that, with a solemn election promise of 20 free hours, he cannot tell the people of New Zealand just how many young preschoolers will qualify, what the actual cost to parents will be, or what the actual commitment from the Government is; what sort of election-year promise and policy is that, when the Minister cannot give us a clear answer on those three points?
The member is enhancing his reputation for being premature, because if he had been following this policy he would know that since April people have been getting attestation forms, and filling them out and giving them to their centres. During June those forms are being put together, and those centres that are coming into the scheme are sending in their applications to be part of the scheme. At the end of this month, I think, there will be some reliable figures to tell the member. So if he just waits till then, I am sure I can give him the figures.
I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would just like to give the Minister an opportunity to correct his answer. The last time I was in Gisborne was in January at our caucus retreat, so he might like to take advice from the people I spoke to—
The member was in Whakatāne but she is welcome in Gisborne, because I am sure they have got it there as well.
I noticed the Minister said he had seen only one example. I seek leave to table this week’s community newspaper in my own area, where Paula’s Preschool says that its 20 free hours policy will require a new, additional charge.