Exclusive: ECA CEO terms funding announcement significant
In the wake of yesterday’s funding proposal announcement by Labor leader Bill Shorten, The Sector reached out to Early Childhood Australia CEO Samantha Page for her thoughts on the announcement.
Two important questions posed to Ms Page are front of mind for many in the sector, on the back of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) proposal to extend Universal Access funding to encompass 15 hours per week of funded universal access to preschool for three year old children – what does this announcement mean for the sector as a whole, and how might the funding be passed on to families?
Ms Page emphasised the significance of the policy proposal, noting the shift from ad hoc year by year modelling, to a long term commitment that beds down the value of early education in the same way in which school education is valued.
The commitment acknowledges not only the importance of the early years in a child’s educational experience, but also the importance of high quality play based early education experiences.
Additionally, the funding, should the ALP succeed in being elected, extends government support of preschool programs to include three year olds, aiming to address Australia’s low participation rates of three year olds in early education.
Ms Page highlighted the importance of ensuring that states and territories are able to provide high quality early education for three year olds, before welcoming the commitment to restoring funding to the National Quality Framework and supporting ongoing quality improvements.
In relation to how the announcement may be funded, and how these savings may be passed on to families, Ms Page highlighted the ALP’s commitment of funding to assist with workforce development and building capacity where required.
Ms Page believes it is likely that Federal funding provided under this announcement will be delivered to state and territories to support access to preschool/kindergarten in the two years before school.
The provision of the funding will enable state and territory governments to meet enrolment targets in a way that facilitates flexible service delivery models and best suits their circumstances, Ms Page said. In the event that funding were to be based on the current preschool funding model, funding provided to state governments would be passed on to parents through free or reduced fees in attending preschool programs.
It was noted that under the current National Partnership Agreement, state and territory governments allocate the funding received in different ways to achieve enrolment outcomes. Some states and territories provide additional assistance to long day care services providing preschool programs, some use the funding to support school based preschool, others to support capital investment to provide more facilities.
Attention was given to the commitment to extend the preschool exemption to the Activity Test (under the Child Care Subsidy scheme) for children in the two years before school, to allow them access to preschool programs irrespective of parental activity levels.
Currently, Ms Page said exemptions exist only in the year before school. The funding proposal outlined by the ALP will provide access to 15 hours per week of subsidised early childhood education and care for children in the two years before school.