By: Simon Collins

Kōhanga reo volunteers will be paid the minimum wage by 2021 in a Budget boost seen as a first step towards resolving a Treaty of Waitangi claim lodged eight years ago.

Associate Minister of Education Kelvin Davis has announced that the country’s 453 kōhanga, or Māori language nests, will get a $32 million injection in the financial year starting on July 1.

The money comprises:

  • $21.4m to pay volunteers at the planned minimum wage of $20 by 2021, and to raise the pay of other staff to maintain relativities.
  • $8.5m to improve the state of kōhanga buildings after the poor state of many buildings caused some kōhanga to lose funding under Ministry of Education rules.
  • $2.5m to improve the movement’s information and communications technology (ICT).

Kōhanga Reo National Trust co-chairman Daniel Procter said the money would be paid as a $1.98 increase from July 1 in the funding rates, which are now $3.96 per child per hour at standard rates for children aged 2 and over, $4.51 at the “quality” rate, and $7.86 “standard” and $8.98 “quality” for children under 2.

Each kōhanga will then be free to decide how to allocate the money to pay staff and volunteers.

“The volunteers are usually made up of parents that work in the kōhanga reo to pay their fees really,” he said.

Many elders also volunteer to support the children’s reo Māori.

Procter said the Ministry of Education’s funding system treated kōhanga as “parent-led”, meaning that they have been funded at lower rates than “teacher-led” early childhood education – even though the kōhanga movement has its own training system that provides a qualification after three years of part-time study while working in a kōhanga.

“Currently they do three years of study and get a $1 pay rise,” he said.

Davis said the new funding for the 2019-20 year was “a partial response to issues identified by the Waitangi Tribunal, who found in favour of a claim lodged by Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust (TKRNT) in 2011”.

He said the Government, through the new Office for Māori Crown Relations Te Arawhiti, was still “working through the issues” identified by the tribunal in its 2012 report on the claim.

“Late last year some of the more pressing issues were recognised and these have been addressed in today’s announcement,” he said. “This is an example of how Te Arawhiti brings Māori and the Crown together.”

The kōhanga movement began in 1982 as a way of helping to revive te reo Māori by using Māori-speaking volunteers from the community to teach preschool children.

However, the tribunal found that the movement had suffered ever since being brought under the Ministry of Education’s general early childhood education regulations in 1990. Numbers in kōhanga peaked at 14,514 in 1993 and have fallen ever since to 8514 last year, the lowest since 1989.

The tribunal recommended “a more appropriate regulatory and licensing framework specific to kōhanga reo”, plus a suite of other changes including “capital funding to ensure that existing kōhanga reo can meet the required standards for relicensing by the end of 2014”.

But the Education Minister at the time, Hekia Parata, did not implement the recommendations because of allegations of financial irregularities by the kōhanga national trust.

She referred the trust to the Serious Fraud Office, which found in 2014 that the trust had not committed a criminal offence.

A separate review by Ernst and Young found that the trust’s financial controls were effective, but recommended changes which the trust accepted.

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