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Finding a funding balance

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The NSW Government says it will fund up to 8000 more three-year-old children for places in community preschools, but has the story raised more questions than it’s answered so far? You can read about the announcement here, the community preschool reaction here, why it matters so much here, and this week we share concerns from a long day care (LDC) service in a remote part of NSW.

Every Australian state and territory has its own ‘flavour’ of early childhood education.  For example, in Victoria, parent-managed community kindergartens are common and moderately priced. In South Australia, the Education Department has always played a major role in providing preschool opportunities and preschool fees are significantly lower as a result. And in New South Wales, there’s been a tradition of high-fees and low government support for community-based, not-for-profit LDC and preschools.

But that seems to be slowly changing, with a new approach in the Premier State that has particularly benefited community preschools.  Most of the Start Strong program funding for four-year-olds was aimed at community preschools. Then there’s the recent announcement of funding for additional places for three-year-olds from 2019 was also restricted to community preschools which represents a 6.6% increase in expenditure from $444.5m to $474.3m

Why them?

NSW LDC services and family day care (FDC) schemes often ask Why when these funding announcements are made.  After all, every approved service has to offer EYLF based preschool programs to children in the years ahead of primary school.  The answer isn’t just in the not-for-profit status of community preschools either, as many LDC and FDC services also operate as not-for-profit under community or local government management.

The answer is more practical, and more complicated, than it might seem.  The NSW Government might have made major inroads to recognising ECE as a portfolio in its own right (the first ECE Minister in NSW history was appointed under former Premier Mike Baird) but funds remain limited and have to be balanced against the enormous schools budget when Treasury makes its decisions on Ministers’ bids each year.

So we can only speculate that the limited dollars available might be framed up to fit a clearly defined group of recipients, such as community preschools, rather than a clearly defined need, such as every child in the two years ahead of school.

Well okay, then…

Let’s look at this as an excellent start.  As director Jenny Hind recalled, a few years ago CELA (then Community Child Care Co-operative) was making the same arguments for funding in preschools and falling on deaf ears in parliament.  Strategically speaking, it’s a huge win for the sector to have any three-year-old places funded, especially in NSW, and it’s particularly good that it comes at a time when the Commonwealth is baulking at supporting quality [link].

While we all await the outcome of the much-delayed next Universal Access agreement, we can take heart that the state and territory officials who were behind the Lifting Our Game report [and see Rattler Issue 124] haven’t turned tail on its findings – yet.

Regional and remote LDC issues heightened

But while some preschool directors see hope that the NSW three-year-old funding will ease competition between preschools, in regional and remote areas the community preschool funding might spell disaster for LDC services.

With fewer children in the population pool, and fewer parents working typical office hours, a cut in fees for three-year-olds in a community preschool could sap the viability of LDCs relying on those children to make ends meet

One director of a remote local government LDC shared her story with us, and asked that her name be withheld.remote services

It shouldn’t be a competition

While we fully support the local community preschool and their operations, we believe our council funded service is seriously under threat of not being viable and sustainable into the future if the same amount of Government funding is not allocated to our service and ultimately to our community’s families and children.

A decade ago, the Australian Government and all State Governments recognised that all children should have access to preschool in the year before school. On 2 December 2015, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015 was introduced.

Since our Council funded and operated Early Learning Centre commenced operations in May 2016, additional government funding has been provided to the local community preschool.

This has allowed the preschool to:

  • extend their operating hours
  • increase the number of days offered to three- and four-year-olds
  • purchase a mini bus and operate a pick up and drop off service to families
  • dramatically reduce their daily fees down to as little as $2 per day, in large part due to the vastly inequitable way the NSW Government funds preschool programs.

We offer quality preschool too

Parents of children aged 3 and 4 who attend our service also access a quality early years preschool program in line with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). But our parents are paying between $23 and $89 per day – compared to between $2 and $25 per day at the community preschool.

A media release by The Parenthood, “Berejiklian Government failing our four-year-olds” on 21 March 2018 said:

Inequity in funding distribution has resulted in only 85 per cent of four-year-olds across NSW participating in a preschool program. Out of the $268 million the Berejiklian Government spends on preschool, only 11 per cent is provided to children who participate in a preschool program at a long day care centre, this is despite the fact that the vast majority of kids attending preschool in NSW (68%) do so through a long day care centre.”

We believe that both State and Federal Governments should ensure that they fund early learning for all 4 year olds EQUALLY no matter which centre or service they attend.

The Federal Government’s Job for Families package was designed to support families in returning to work, but parents in our community are being left to foot the bill and children are missing out. Families should not be disadvantaged within our community because they choose to, or need to, work.

She provided two case studies from the remote area in which she operates

Below is an outline of two scenarios for two different families demonstrating the disparity of funding allocation between the service they choose or need to use:

Family A:

This mum works five days per week and her hours are longer than preschool so she chooses to use LDC for her preschool aged child. She pays $206 per week. If she wasn’t working and accessed the same early learning program through the community preschool, her fees would be less than $10 per week.

Family B:

This single mother of four is seeking work, her youngest is at community preschool three days per week and at our service two days per week. The total fees paid weekly is $60.

If she finds employment and needs longer hours of care, her weekly total fees will increase from $60 with the preschool/LDC combination, to around $200, simply because of the type of service she needs to access.

 

 

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