This Federal election provides another opportunity for both sides of politics to commit to funding 15 hours of preschool (for forty weeks a year) beyond 2017.
For many parents and organisations involved in early childhood education and care, this opportunity feels a little like Groundhog Day – but we have to stand up once again and demand that the Coalition and Labor parties make this commitment.
In the past, both sides of politics have allocated funding to make sure children receive at least 15 hours (for forty weeks a year) of quality early learning in the year before they start school, regardless of their family’s work, study or level of income.
Research consistently shows ensuring more kids can attend kinder improves that child’s lifelong learning outcomes, and a 2014 report by PwC Australia also found it would benefit the Australian economy by up to $29 billion over the next 35 years.
But there’s a problem. The current funding contributions are in doubt beyond 2017.
Not only do our children deserve a minimum of 15 hours of preschool, but educators and service providers need certainty of funding to plan for the future. With family budgets tight, parents also have a right to known if kindergarten fees are effectively set to increase.
Back in 2007, the Rudd Government embarked on an exciting reform agenda in early childhood education and care that included the development and implementation of the National Quality Framework, and the first National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education. A core component of the Universal Access reform agenda was the acknowledgement that all children would benefit from at least 15 hours (for forty weeks a year) of quality early learning in the year before school.
Through the Council of Australian Governments, the Government then signed a partnership agreement with all States and Territories, whereby it committed the Commonwealth to funding these additional hours until the end of 2014.
But Labor failed to take the opportunity to enshrine this funding beyond that time.
In September 2013, the new Abbott Government refused to commit to funding 15 hours of preschool into the future and embarked on a different early childhood agenda instead. Together with other early childhood organisations, service providers, teachers, unions and most importantly parents, ELAA led a highly successful online and media campaign to pressure the Government into continuing to fund 15 hours. Ultimately, the Government gave in, but committed funding only for a further year.
Through the course of a lengthy inquiry by the Productivity Commission into child care and early childhood learning, we made some progress and in response to the Commission’s recommendations, the Government re-committed to funding 15 hours – but only for 2016 and 2017.
But, like Labor, the Coalition failed to take the opportunity to guarantee this critical funding for children into the future.
The ongoing funding uncertainty is being likened to
the 1993 screwball comedy, Groundhog Day.
These continued policy failures create tremendous uncertainty for families and big risks to the long-term economic and social well-being of our nation.
So what do we need to do?
We need to stand up once more and demand a better deal from the Federal Government for our youngest learners. It is up to each and every one of us to make sure early childhood education counts at this election.
It’s time for our political leaders to make a commitment to the future of all Australian children. ▉
You can support the Keep Funding 15 Hours campaign by signing the petition to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten asking for an ongoing commitment to funding 15 hours.
Images: Early Learning Association Australia/YouTube