Preschool funding out in the cold as COAG meets today

by Freya Lucas

December 14, 2018

Funding for Universal Access to preschool education, a topic which has garnered a lot of interest within the media and the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector more broadly, has reportedly been omitted from the agenda of discussion for today’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) education council meeting.

 

The Courier Mail has today reported the omission, alongside quotes from a range of influential members of the ECEC sector, who have reportedly described the omission as “out of step” and a “snub” to the need to reform Australia’s ECEC sector.

 

Although states and territories are mostly responsible for the provision of education in the year or years before school, the amount of Federal funding available, and the allocation of same, influences decision making about what the states and territories provides.

 

Many states and territories have revealed their funding intentions for the early years in previous months, with the newly re-elected Labor Government in Victoria being the biggest proponents for Universal Access for three year olds, committing $5 billion in funding to Universal Access and other initiatives designed to benefit ECEC.

 

Citing an obtained copy of the draft agenda for the education council meeting, to be held in Adelaide today, The Courier Mail said that whilst “no jab, no play”, NAPLAN data reporting, and responding to education related recommendations from the Child Abuse Royal Commision were to be discussed, there was no mention in the agenda of a discussion about Universal Access preschool funding.

 

Whilst the education council secretariat distributes the agenda for the COAG meeting, there is an option for ministers to amend the agenda, adding items of pressing need or interest. The omission itself, as well as the failure to address it, have left prominent advocates for Universal Access funding with questions, the Courier Mail said.

 

Goodstart Early Learning advocacy manager, John Cherry, reportedly described the move to leave Universal Access discussions off the table as “shocking” and “astonishing”, questioning the timing of an April budget announcement and the lack of funding certainty for 2020, calling for “a serious conversation” about the provision of Universal Access for three year old children.

 

The Courier Mail quotes Early Childhood Australia’s CEO, Sam Page, as saying the move to leave the Universal Access discussion out of the agenda was “just crazy”, given that “ basically everyone – leading thinkers, the entire ECEC sector and parents – is talking about it”

 

Commentary also came from Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Amanda Rishworth, who took to social media to share the coverage of the omission, saying “in its biggest snub yet, the Liberals have neglected to place preschool funding on the agenda for today’s Education Council meeting of ministers.”

 

The Federal Government have committed $870 million under Universal Access National Partnership agreements to continue the Universal Access program until the end of 2019, allowing all children to access 15 hours of funded preschool education in the year before school.

 

Many commentators and advocates within the ECEC sector have expressed concern about the insecurity of the funding beyond 2019, and advocated strongly for an extension of the funding to also include three year olds.

 

COAG findings and discussions following today’s meeting will be published here.

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