New Zealand’s Funding System for Early Childhood Education and Care Services

New Zealand has a substantial amount of supply-side funding (i.e., direct funding of operating costs) of its various types of early childhood education and care services.  In that way, it’s quite different from Australia; in Australia, the large majority of funding is on the demand-side – a payment to services on behalf of parents (and varying in amount according to the circumstances of the parents) when they use certain types of regulated child care.

In Canada, we’re very interested in looking at different examples of supply-side funding.  Of course, child care providers in different circumstances have different costs.  An effective supply-side funding system needs to account for legitimate differences in the costs of service delivery and pay different funding rates to providers in different circumstances.

Amongst English-speaking countries, New Zealand was early in funding its child care services on the supply side and stuck with it.  For that reason, and for its pioneering curriculum Te Whāriki, and for its articulate advocates, many of us regarded New Zealand as a model to follow.  Some aspects of its funding model are interesting to examine, but its early education and care system has not fared well over the years.  New Zealand had a supply-side funding system for child care, but it did not impose any limits on child care fees that could be charged.  It turns out that was a huge mistake. 

New Zealand now has child care that is amongst the least affordable in the OECD, despite supply-side funding and despite offering 20 hours of “free” early childhood education to children 3, 4 and 5 years of age (essentially to children aged 3 and 4 because schooling starts on a child’s 5th birthday in New Zealand).  The average parent fee in New Zealand for children 0-5 was calculated to be $6.89 per hour or over $60 per day if, for example, using child care for a 9-hour day.

I’m not going to try to unpack what has gone wrong with New Zealand’s education and care system in this blogpost.  Instead, I want to look at some of the details of their supply-side funding system to see what we in Canada can learn from it.  The point of what I wrote above is to remind you that while a supply-side funding system is desirable, it is not sufficient.  There need to be controls on the fees that services can charge to parents as well and there need to be strong measures of financial accountability.

There are a range of different early education and child care services that are funded in New Zealand.  There are education and care services (child care centres), kindergartens (also in centres but governed by a kindergarten association), hospital-based services and home-based services.  All of these are part of what are called teacher-led services.  Then there are parent-led services that also receive funding.  This blogpost will focus on education and care services in child care centres; kindergartens are funded quite similarly. 

Half of New Zealand’s approximately 4,700 early childhood education services are education and care services and nearly 70% of these are now for-profit enterprises (up from about 40% three decades ago).  There are nearly 700 kindergartens – all of these are community-based not-for-profit organizations.

There are many factors that will affect the amount of supply-side funding a centre gets.  To summarize, these are the main ones:

  • The type of service (education and care service vs. kindergarten etc.);
  • Whether the services are full-day or are part-day and perhaps part-year;
  • The proportion of staff hours that are covered by certificated teachers (i.e., with ECE or primary teaching qualification plus a current practising certificate).  These must be staff hours that are required to fulfill ratio requirements;
  • The pay level relative to union-bargained kindergarten and primary teacher pay levels (i.e., supplementary funding if all teachers are paid at certain rates);
  • The age of children attending the service (under 2, 2 and over);
  • Whether the service offers parents the program for 20 hours per week of free child care for children aged 3, 4 and 5;
  • Whether the children attending a centre come from low socio-economic communities;
  • Whether the children attending a centre come from communities with a substantial population with special needs and from non-English-speaking backgrounds;
  • Whether a centre provides the majority of its service in a language and culture other than English;
  • Whether a centre is isolated from population centres;
  • Whether 20% or more of the children attending a service are considered to be disadvantaged (dependent of person on social assistance or other programs).

The largest portion of this regular funding for most centres would be related to the first six of these factors.  These funding variations are covered by the Early Childhood Education Funding Subsidy and 20 Hours Early Childhood Education.  The remaining funding variations are covered by Equity Funding, the Annual Top-Up for Isolated Services and Targeted Funding for Disadvantage.  Details are available here.  Of course, there are regular detailed reporting requirements for early childhood services (on enrollment, attendance, staff hours worked by teachers with different qualifications, pay levels, etc.) so that eligibility for funding can be calculated.

For reference, here is the base funding rate table from January 1, 2023.  The figures in the table refer to the amount of funding per hour for each funded child hour.  Funded child hours are limited to no more than 6 hours in a day and no more than 30 hours in a week.  A centre may offer the 20 free hours of ECE program for 3, 4 and 5 year old children.  For those hours, the 20 Hours column would apply for the first 20 hours and other columns would apply for the remainder of hours up to 30 in a week (but no more than 6 in any day).  Funding under the 20 Hours ECE program is intended to cover full average costs, whereas other funding is intended to make a contribution to costs, but not cover full costs.

Base Funding Rates Per Hour for Education and Care Centres in New Zealand, 2020. 

Rates vary by percent of hours provided by certificated educators

Percent of required ratio hours that are delivered by certificated educators (either ECEs or primary teacher qualification)Funding per hour per child for children less than 2 years oldFunding per hour per child for children 2 or more years of ageFunding per hour per child under the 20 Hours ECE program for children 3, 4 or 5 years of age
100% certificated$14.16$8.30$13.55

Note that these are the base funding rates.  Centres that pay higher rates of pay to all of their teachers would receive higher funding rates – either the Parity Funding Rates or the Extended Parity Funding Rates.  These Parity funding rates are designed to encourage centres to pay wages that are fully competitive with union-bargained wages paid to primary teachers.

On top of this supply-side funding, there is also some targeted demand-side funding paid directly to the ECE service.  All the supply-side funding is provided through the Ministry of Education.  Childcare Subsidy is administered through Work and Income, Ministry of Social Development. 

What are the take-home messages for us in Canada?  First, supply-side funding systems are complex because there are a number of key sources of cost variations for child care services.  We need to do our homework in creating new funding systems.  Second, it is important to account for cost variations due to factors that may affect quality, such as ECE teacher qualifications and pay levels.  Third, supply-side funding is part of a new funding system; controls on fees charged to parents and strong measures of financial accountability are equally necessary.

Cost Controls and Supply-Side Funding: What Does Quebec Do?

As provinces and territories move towards $10 a day child care, they have committed themselves to creating new funding systems that implement cost controls on child care operators.  You’re probably wondering what the heck that means.

Well, child care in Canada outside Quebec is being transformed from being funded mostly by parent fees to being funded mostly by direct funding from the government to child care operators.  In return for the provision of specific services, child care operators get operating funding, often known as supply-side funding.   These child care operators also commit to lowering their parent fees, eventually down to an average of $10 a day. 

$10 a day is a small fraction of the total true cost of providing child care services, which means that  80%-90% of the funding will have to come from governments.  But when governments are providing the lion’s share of the money, they need to know that the funds are being spent efficiently to deliver services and not being wasted or disappearing into corporate profits.  So, the federal government has insisted that provincial and territorial governments develop new funding systems that ensure that operators are only paid for service delivery costs that are reasonable and not excessive.

Designing a new funding system that controls costs while also promoting quality is not necessarily easy.  After all, what is a reasonable cost and what is an unreasonable cost?  Figuring this out requires a detailed knowledge of the variations in costs across providers in the licensed child care sector.  And some difficult judgements.

Funding arrangements can be a bit boring and technical so most people ignore them and just complain about the results.  But it is worth the investment of a bit of time to figure out some of the issues.

One approach is to look at what other jurisdictions do – the ones that already have very substantial supply-side funding and controlled fees.  Quebec is one of those jurisdictions. 

A large portion of Quebec’s licensed child care is available at a fixed parent fee – currently $8.85 per day.  Many of these fixed-fee services are in not-for-profit Early Childhood Centres or CPEs (Centres de la Petite Enfance).   Fixed-fee services are also found in for-profit garderies; others are in family child care homes.

Below, I describe how CPEs are funded currently for fiscal year 2022-23.  Here’s the document (in French) that describes most of this.

Quebec’s funding model seeks to cover the legitimate costs that an operator has in the delivery of services to children.  There is a base allocation of funding and then supplementary allocations; the largest share of funding is the base allocation.  To be eligible for the base allocation, the service must be closed fewer than or equal to 13 days per year and must pay all of its personnel for every day. 

The base funding allocation is composed of five elements: direct services, auxiliary services, administrative services, occupancy costs and service level optimization. 

Direct services – This refers to the care provided for children of different ages and there is a rate of funding per day based on the enrollment in each age category.  $66.49 is paid for each infant day, $41.85 for each day for a child 18-47 months of age, and $33.64 is paid for each day for a child 48-59 months of age.  These amounts are adjusted regularly to take into account changes in the bargained wage scales for CPE employees.

These amounts are intended to cover the general operating costs of care provided to children, in particular the remuneration of qualified child care staff, assistants and specialized educators, training and professional development, and educational and recreational materials.

There are adjustments to these daily rates based on a couple of things.  First, if the overall compensation bill in this centre is particularly high (because, for instance, many of the staff have many years of experience), the daily amount will be adjusted up.  The reference rate is currently $26.62.  The daily rates could also be decreased if the compensation bill in the centre is low relative to the reference rate.

Another adjustment is based on qualifications of staff in the centre relative to a reference rate.  This provides some incentive to hire more qualified staff.  There is another adjustment for the attendance rate of enrolled children in the centre.  There is another adjustment for the number of paid days off provided to employees.

Auxiliary Services – these are services (and corresponding costs) related to food preparation, cleaning, snow removal, purchases of minor equipment, etc.   To cover this, there is an allocation of $8.09 per enrolled child per day, with a supplement for small centres.

Administrative Services – to cover the administrative costs of the centre, there is an allocation of $2,217.10 per licensed space for the first 60 spaces and $1,958.85 for each space above 60. 

Occupancy Costs – There is a part A and a part B to this calculation.  Part A allocates $552.16 for each space.  Part B, which is for leased space, varies by region and reaches its maximum at $1,823 per space in Montreal.  The centre can get the sum of these allocations if its actual occupancy expenses are at least equal to this total.

The occupancy cost allocation is intended to cover rental payments, energy costs, fire and theft insurance, maintenance and repair costs, and property taxes paid by the tenant.

Service Optimization – Enrollment has to be at least 90% and attendance has to be at least 70% or else the funding allocation is reduced.

There are clear instructions in the funding guidelines about exactly how to calculate important parameters of this funding formula.  For instance, it may be necessary to calculate the number of licensed spaces according to a formula if the number of spaces has changed over the course of the year.  There are instructions on how to calculate the annual enrollment, the rate of annual enrollment, the annual rate of attendance and the number of weighted days of enrollment (weighted by child/staff ratios). 

All of the above relates to the base allocation of operational funding.  There are also supplementary allocations:

  • One covers Employment Insurance costs for the employer. 
  • Another covers the Quebec Pension Plan costs for the employer. 
  • There is a supplementary allocation to cover the missing parent fees for parents who, because of low income or other factors, do not have to pay the $8.85 per day parent fee.
  • There is supplementary funding for spaces that are reserved for children referred to the centre by integrated health and social services centres or integrated university health and social services centres (CISSS/CIUSS)
  • There is a supplementary allocation for centres that have more than 8% of their enrolled hours provided to children who come from disadvantaged environments (to cover extra costs)
  • There is a supplementary allocation for children of school age in the centre from April to August.
  • There is supplementary funding for the care of children who have disabilities.
  • There is a supplementary allocation for the proportion of enrollment that is for non-standard hours.
  • There is a supplementary allocation for enrollment for part-time child care.
  • There is a supplementary allocation for small centres that have fewer than 32 spaces.
  • There is a supplementary allocation to allow a bonus payment to cooks that have reached the maximum of the salary scale.
  • There is also an allocation for small investments and infrastructure (less than $50,000) for which the operator has to apply.

So, what should we in the rest of Canada conclude about the design of new funding systems?

First, in theory such a funding system is simple.  It is a payment schedule for services delivered by the centre, based on the legitimate costs of this service delivery.  In practice, this kind of funding system is complicated and you need a lot of data on legitimate cost variations to design a fair and workable system.  That’s why I have been recommending that centres annually provide detailed expenditure data to governments as a basis for calculating and adjusting funding rules.

Second, and perhaps not obvious, this funding system is a lot easier to design if staff in all centres are paid according to a uniform wage grid for base wages because it is then easier to project the average cost of child care services per space. See also this.

Third, if you read the full document it is obvious that these funding rules have to be updated every year to account for changed costs and changed institutional arrangements.  

Is Ontario About to Violate the Early Learning and Child Care Agreement it Signed?

Not-for-profit and public services are at the heart of Ontario child care.  Overall, they care for more than three-quarters of our children in licensed child care.  For children 0-5 years of age, that number has been 70% of children compared to 30% in commercial child care arrangements.

I guess that’s why Ontario didn’t fuss too much about agreeing with the federal government that this percentage – at least 70% not-for-profit and public – would stay the same when licensed child care moves to $10 a day by 2026.  In March 2022, Ontario signed an agreement with the federal government to get about $10 billion over 4 years in order to transform Ontario’s child care into an affordable, increasingly accessible service provided predominantly by not-for-profit and public providers.  

That Agreement is admirably clear on the limits to for-profit expansion.  In Section 2.1.1, Ontario commits that “at the end of this Agreement, the proportion of not-for-profit licensed child care spaces for children age 0 to 5 compared to the total number of licensed child care spaces for children age 0 to 5 will be 70% or higher.” (emphasis added)

This commitment is repeated in Ontario’s Action Plan in Section 4.4.

However, there is increasing evidence that Ontario regrets the terms they agreed to in March of 2022.  I have now heard from the Ministry of Education that Ontario no longer plans to respect this part of the Agreement.

Of course, the Canada-Ontario Agreement is a contract and payment of federal money depends on following its terms.  So, the Ministry of Education is twisting itself into a pretzel trying to justify its new intentions.  The Ministry of Education has now decided that the insistence upon a minimum of 70% not-for-profit services, despite the clear wording above, refers only to services that are in receipt of federally-provided operating funding and does not apply to all licensed child care. But – read the underlined section again – they are obviously wrong. 

Why is this happening now?  For-profit expansion was front-end-loaded by the current government.  Many for-profit operators applied for licences over the months that Ontario was dithering about whether to sign an agreement to take billions of dollars of federal child care money.  As a result in order to stick to the original 70% rule, the province could only license about 2,300 more spaces between now and 2026, according to my calculations.  All the rest of the expansion, tens of thousands of spaces, would have to come from either not-for-profit or public operators.

Apparently, the government of Ontario, and the for-profit lobbyists that appear to dictate its recent policy changes, did not like this logic.  Ontario now wants to be allowed to license dozens or hundreds more of these for-profit operators whose fees will not be controlled.

The Ministry of Education’s reinterpretation of the Agreement would mean more for-profit expansion than the current limit of 2,300 within federally-funded services.  Plus, it would allow for an infinite amount of for-profit expansion outside of the funding agreement.  Presumably, once this agreement ends in 2026, all these new for-profits outside the agreement could be welcomed by Ontario into a new five-year funding arrangement with the federal government. 

For-profit expansion outside of the funding agreement will not be planned or controlled in any way.  It will, no doubt, happen in the big population centres where most services are already located, not in priority underserved neighbourhoods.

This latest travesty comes on top of other instances of Ministry of Education fealty to Ontario’s for-profit operators.  We need to make it clear that this is unacceptable.  Parents want and need good quality, affordable child care.  They will get that in a system dominated by not-for-profit logic.  But they will not get good quality affordable child care if commercial interests are allowed to take complete control of Ontario’s child care policies.

Wages of Early Childhood Educators and Assistants in Ontario

This table below supports the chart in my presentation to the recent (Jan 5, 2023) Building Blocks for Child Care webinar on child care expansion in Ontario. It is posted nearby on this website. The table and chart show the essential problem behind recruitment and retention problems of early childhood educators. Their wages are too low to attract many more educators. In essence, the average wage paid to early childhood educators is much lower than the hourly wages paid to workers in other occupations requiring a college education. Early childhood educators are paid as if they had only a high school education, so there is very little incentive to enter the profession. The data is from Statistics Canada, most of it from the Labour Force Survey across 2020 and 2021.

You can also compare this to data we have on Registered Early Childhood Educators in Ontario from 2019. Have a look at Figure 11 and the table below it from Ontario’s 2020 Annual Report. It shows that the median wage of RECEs in Ontario in 2019 was just a hair above $20 an hour. By the way, Ontario hasn’t yet published its 2021 Annual Report on how child care is doing in Ontario, even though they collected that data on March 31st, 2021. I wonder why.