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More funding for early childhood education: an update
More funding for early childhood education: an update
Posted 16/09/2014 by Marilyn Harrington
The Government has announced that it will provide $406 million for the continuation of
support for universal access to early childhood (preschool) education in the year before full-time schooling in 2015. This is the same level of funding that was provided for 2014 in the
2013-14 Budget. There is also a new condition placed on the funding; namely, that state
and territory governments use the universal access funding to also fund preschool services
provided in long day care centres (LDCs).
The announcement follows repeated assertions by the Assistant Minister for Education,
Sussan Ley, that the future of Australian Government funding for early childhood education
would be determined once the scheduled review of the National Partnership for Universal
Access to Early Childhood Education, under which universal access funding was originally
provided and which expired on 30 June 2013, was completed. She has also stated that the
Government will wait for the final report of the Productivity Commission’s (PC’s) inquiry into
childcare and early childhood learning.
The review of the National Partnership has been completed and its report was discussed at
the August meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Education Council.
The Council noted that while there had been ‘significant successes’ in increasing access to,
and participation in, preschool programs, the universal access commitment has not been
fully met and there was still further work to do. The Government’s announcement of interim
funding for 2015 would appear to be a response to the Council’s concern that there was an
‘urgent need’ for a funding decision from the Australian Government to ‘provide certainty
for families and the sector as soon as possible’. The review’s report has not yet been
While the Government’s announcement has been welcomed, there is some disappointment
that the additional funding is only for a further year. There are also some questions about
the requirement for state and territory governments to provide their universal access
funding for preschool services delivered in LDCs.
Early childhood education services are provided in a variety of settings:
â¢ stand-alone preschools run by governments, and community and for-profit
â¢ preschools that are integrated with schools (government and non-government) and
â¢ preschool programs provided in LDCs.
Under the National Partnership arrangements, state and territory governments have
discretion as to how to use their universal access funding and what type of preschool
services they support, subject to their implementation plans. As the draft report of the PC’s
inquiry noted, only the Queensland, Victorian and South Australian governments provide
universal access funding for preschool programs in LDCs.
The Government has not announced how it will implement the new requirement. However, it
would seem that, without increasing the amount of funding, the new requirement is likely to
have a significant impact on preschool provision in those jurisdictions which have a
significant proportion of children attending LDC preschool programs and which do not
currently fund these programs. Using these criteria, NSW and the ACT would be most
affected given that Australian Bureau of Statistics preschool enrolment data show that 55%
of NSW preschool children and 30% of ACT preschool children, discounting those who were
enrolled in more than one provider type, were enrolled in LDC preschool programs in 2013.
The reaction to the Government’s announcement from these two jurisdictions has been
mixed. The ACT Minister for Education and Training has welcomed the extension of funding
but is assuming that there will be increased Commonwealth funding for the extension. The
NSW Government has not yet made a decision on whether it will change its preschool
The Government’s requirement to fund LDC preschool programs is the same as PC’s draft
The Australian Government should continue to provide per child payments to the states and
territories for universal access to a preschool program of 15 hours per week for 40 weeks
per year. This support should be based on the number of children enrolled in state and
territory government funded preschool services, including where these are delivered in a
long day care service. (Draft recommendation 12.9.)
However, the PC’s draft report does note that directly providing government funding for
preschool programs in LDC centres may overlap with child care support. For instance, an
LDC provider may be getting paid twice, for the preschool service and through the child care
fee paid by the family, which attracts Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. The PC
comments that the ‘preschool services in the LDC setting increases the complexity of the
funding arrangements for preschool’ and that adjustments to child care fees would
consequently be required.
The Government’s extension of universal access funding to LDC preschool programs as part
of its interim arrangements for 2015 may raise a question as to whether the Government
has to some extent pre-empted the PC’s final report and the Government’s response to it.
A final decision about the future of universal access funding may still be some time away.
Not only is the Government waiting for the PC’s final report (due October 2014), but the
Assistant Minister has also stated that the White Paper on the Reform of the Federation and
the review of the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care may
‘inform the Government on future preschool policy decisions’.
See also: M Harrington, Universal access to early childhood education: a quick guide,
Research paper series, 2013-14, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 1 May 2014.
â¢ early childhood education