The sentiment comes as the Child Poverty Reduction Bill was today read for the second time in Parliament.
The Bill aims to introduce legislation to set targets around the reduction of child poverty.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction, and has long said the issue is close to her heart and one of her main aims in office.
NZEI made a submission on the Bill saying that there needed to be a more child-centred approach in government to reduce poverty and that effective planning and policy-making to do this required good data.
Earlier this year, the Labour-led Government introduced the Families Package which included boosting Working for Families, introducing a Best Start payment for families with young children, and a winter energy payment.
“This is a great step by this government to try to reduce some of the inequities children and their whānau are facing," said NZEI president Lynda Stuart.
She added that child poverty had been neglected by the previous government.
A UNICEF report released earlier this week showed New Zealand is ranked in the bottom third of OECD countries in inequality in education across all three levels – early childhood, primary and secondary.
The Innocenti Report Card: An Unfair Start, Inequality in Children's Education in Rich Countries said the gap between the OECD's highest and lowest-performing students was made worse due to the effects of poverty.
“NZEI has been saying consistently and constantly that children cannot learn when they are hungry and sick and live in cold, damp housing," Stuart said.
“One of the best things we can do for children is to pay their parents a living wage and this includes boosting family income - through pay equity processes - so that low-paid women can provide for their children.
“Living in poverty is beyond children’s control and we owe it to them and their whānau to get them out of poverty.
"Teachers and principals see the effects of poverty every day in their schools.
“These children enter education at a disadvantage and drop further and further behind as they get older. Frankly, I find it heart-breaking.”
The UNICEF report made a number of recommendations on how education inequality could be reduced, including the guarantee of high-quality early childhood education and reducing the impact of socio-economic inequality through family allowances and public services.