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Treasury opposes pre-school plan [NZ]

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Dye, Stuart
Publication Date: 
4 Oct 2004

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Plans to offer free education to all children aged three and four at community-based centres have no clear educational rationale and don't offer value for money, says the Treasury.

Education Minister Trevor Mallard announced the provision of 20 free hours a week from 2007 as part of the Budget.

But papers released under the Official Information Act reveal the minister snubbed advice from Treasury officials.

"We do not recommend you pursue this option," they said in a report in November last year.

The Treasury said parents, some early childhood centres and low-income and solo-parent families could all suffer because of the new entitlement.

Officials told the minister that children from middle-upper income families would see little benefit from the free hours. They recommended a targeted approach for low-income families and solo parents.

"A universal approach carries high dead-weight costs due to the lack of targeting those groups currently under-participating," said one report.

The Treasury also said there was no educational basis for restricting the provision of free hours to community-based centres.

Announcing the free entitlement, Mr Mallard cited international research, which showed that early education was vital in improving a child's performance later in life.

Yesterday, the minister said the decision to restrict the offer to community-based centres was purely financial. "It would have doubled or tripled the cost to include private providers," he said.

The policy was not targeted because it would have created a middle-income trap.

"We have to be very careful about penalising middle-income New Zealanders and that's what this would have done," Mr Mallard said.

The Treasury advice was among a huge range of papers from different Government departments, including a "pile of options" from the Ministry of Education.

The Government's aim was to ensure early childhood education was available "as widely as possible and with minimum cost to users".

- reprinted from the New Zealand Herald