Early childhood education funding is in the news again, this time with the New South Wales state government announcing increased funding to preschools. But with most children in NSW enrolled in long day care, not preschool, how many families will actually be helped by more funding?
The NSW state government has announced plans to increase funding to preschools by $115 million over the next 18 months. For families, this translates to an average fee reduction of 30 per cent per child, according the early childhood education minister Lesley Williams.
NSW preschools have the highest fees
NSW preschools are among the most expensive in the country, and unsurprisingly, they also have the lowest attendance rates. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 34 per cent of children in NSW are enrolled in preschool, and of those, only 66 per cent are enrolled in the recommended 15 hours or more per week.
The average cost of preschool in NSW is around $30 a day in regional areas, and $40 in urban areas. The new funding will cause the overall average to drop to $22 a day.
By contrast, nearly 70 per cent of preschools in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and ACT charge no fees.
Preschool versus long day care
Research by Start Strong, a NSW Department of Education-funded project, says that preschools typically operate only during school hours (9am – 3pm) during school terms.
This lack of flexibility means preschool isn’t an option for many working families. It’s likely why the ABS shows that 62 per cent of kids in NSW are enrolled in long day care centres, which are typically open for at least eight hours a day.
Of the $115 million funding package, only $30 million is earmarked for long day care centres. The rest is targeted at preschools, particularly towards disadvantaged children – and some are arguing that the weighting of this funding puts working families at a disadvantage.
There’s more money, but it’s being held back
A recent report by the Auditor-General has revealed the NSW government has been holding back $350 million in federal funding intended for early childhood education.
According to Kate Washington, Labor’s early childhood spokeswoman, $115 million represents only one third of federal money budgeted for the early childhood education sector.
She told the Sydney Morning Herald, “For the Premier to be seeking accolades for passing on just some of the federal funding that’s been allocated for the sector is inexcusable.”
According to the state government, funds were held in reserve to smooth out timing issues and uncertainty about future federal funding.
Funding is apparently earmarked for day care services, but what will actually happen remains to be seen.