Preschool funding under threat, low income families to suffer

Friday, 04 May 2018

Every year thousands of parents start planning for their child’s jump into preschool and kindy. This year I am one of them. It is an exciting time for families and a big step in growing up.

I know that when it comes to choosing a kindy or preschool, parents look for one that has a great reputation in the community, is close to home, and is affordable. Then we have to hope our kids like their teachers and make new friends.

Looking for a preschool which matches these criteria can be difficult at the best of times. What we shouldn’t have to worry about is whether or not our preschools get government funding or not – we just assume they do. But, sadly, this may no longer be something we can take for granted. This is because the funding that our preschools and kindies rely on is under threat – next year is the last year it is funded in the federal budget.  Without a long term funding commitment from the government for our preschools, many families will be left in limbo about what this means for them.

The government seems to think this is ok. But it’s not. Preschools, early educators, and families are telling me they need a commitment from government. Just as our kids need routine, so do our early educators. They need to be able to plan ahead, make budgets and hire staff. They can’t do this when they don’t know year to year if they will get their funding. Recently an alliance of 36 organisations in the early childhood sector wrote to the government and called on them to end the uncertainty and provide long term funding.

There is no bigger priority than early education. We know that 85-90 per cent of brain development happens in the first five years of life. The early years of life lay down the learning behaviours and skills that are essential to a child’s lifelong learning, behaviour and health.

The overwhelming amount of research to support this is what led the former Labor Government to introduce universal funding for preschool for four year olds when it was in government in 2008. This long term funding was a commitment to our young minds, giving them the best start to life they could have and which they deserve. Its success saw an increase in enrolments of 77 per cent to almost 93 per cent.

If our preschools and kindies aren’t properly funded by government they will be starved of funding, which means many families will be forced to pay the difference, making it harder on those who can least afford it.

With the cost of child care increasing in the past year by 5.9 per cent alone, and the new changes to the child care system which will leave 279,000 families worse off, some families will be feeling the compounding pressures to their wallets and the ones who stand to lose are our children – particularly those from lower income families.

As parents and carers, we want our kids to get the best possible start in life. As a society, we want all kids to get the same opportunity, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn.

That is why in the past week, Labor has launched its campaign calling on the government to commit to long term funding in this year’s Budget to four year old preschool. Our kids deserve the best start in life and that includes the best possible start to their education.

This piece was first published on Kidspot on Friday 4 May 2018.

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