The federal government’s $1.6 billion funding commitment for early childhood education over the next four years is a start, but more is required to secure the future of the sector.
IEU-QNT Senior Industrial Officer John Spriggs said although the Budget contained some positive first steps for the sector, the current funding commitments fall short of delivering high quality, universally accessible and affordable early learning for every Australian child.
“On its face, the announcement of $1.6 billion over 4 years is welcome,” John said.
“For too long, kindergartens and preschools have suffered because of a lack of certainty regarding funding.
“However, the announcement is tied to cooperation with the states, and improving school readiness.”
The Guardian reported that although Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed the government was committing $2 billion in funding for preschools, the Appendix D on page 60 of the official budget papers indicated the actual funding figure is $1.6 billion over the next four years.
“A further cautionary note involves the government’s statement that the funding is conditional on expanded data collection,” John said.
“We sincerely hope the government does not attempt to introduce NAPLAN for kindergartens.
“The focus of early childhood education should be on the development of the child.
“A system that prioritises ‘schoolification’ both shortchanges Australia’s children and devalues their individuality,” he said.
Three-year olds excluded
In a pre-budget submission, advocacy group The Parenthood, wrote that “despite success lifting enrolments of children in preschool programs in the year before school (four-year olds) Australia is in the bottom third of countries ranked by the OECD in relation to the enrolment of three-year olds.”
“Disappointingly, the Budget announcement on 11 May does not extend early childhood education to three-year old children,” John said.
“This constitutes a missed opportunity to further improve life outcomes for Australia’s children.
“Before the Budget was released, the federal government strategically leaked announcements regarding funding for childcare.
“Whilst improving access to childcare is a positive, the announcements contained no detail in relation to maintaining and enhancing the quality of care provided to children,” he said.
Funding from 2022-2025
“The four-year funding commitment from 2022-2025 is a welcome improvement however, early education should be viewed as a right for all children just as primary and secondary education is viewed as a right,” John said.
“An independent review conducted in 2019 found the short-term nature of the Universal Access National Partnership (UANP) has adversely affected the efficiency of funding arrangements in that it has led to cautious decision-making about investment in programs and in staffing.
“It also found children across Australia are benefitting measurably from the 600 hours of early childhood education before compulsory school.
“Debates about the length of the funding guarantee obscure the fact that ongoing funding should exist without continued argument,” he said.
Time for permanent funding
Ongoing, guaranteed funding through Universal Access is not a new idea to our union.
IEU members have been consistently fighting for a long-term commitment to investing in early childhood education through the Fund Our Future campaign as we know first-hand the difference that quality early childhood education has on children’s development.
Members are encouraged to sign and share our petition calling on the federal government to guarantee permanent Universal Access funding.
Sign the Fund Our Future petition www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/fund-our-future