Morrison expects NSW to fall into line on schools funding
After the government announced $1.2 billion would be given to non-government schools, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said the deal was unfair.
Families will be promised a $1.75 billion funding boost in a dramatic Labor pledge to widen access to preschool, offering new subsidies to help children learn more at a younger age.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will guarantee access to subsidised preschool for around 700,000 children a year in a move that intensifies his policy fight on education ahead of the next election.
The Labor policy continues an existing federal package to subsidise preschool for four-year-olds, but it ramps up the funding to extend the scheme to three-year-olds in the name of lifting education results.
Every three-year-old in Australia would be able to access 15 hours of subsidised early childhood education each week under the Labor plan, to be outlined with a claim that it will help expand the economy over time.
“This is an economic and social reform as profound as lifting the school leaving age and opening up universal access to universities,” Mr Shorten says in a speech to be delivered on Thursday.
The federal government has promised $440 million for preschool education in 2019 on top of $428 million this year, funding lessons for four-year-olds for 15 hours a week in an agreement with the states.
The enrolment of four-year-olds in this type of preschool education has climbed from 77 per cent to more than 93 per cent since 2008, when Labor started the funding program.
But education experts warned in February that Australia was falling behind other countries and should encourage early learning for children as young as three because research showed this helped them learn in later life.
Only 15 per cent of three-year-olds participate in pre-primary education, compared with about 69 per cent across other developed economies, according to the “Lifting Our Game” report by education expert Susan Pascoe and professor Deborah Brennan of the University of New South Wales.
The report cited British research that found children with two or three years in preschool ended up nearly eight months ahead in literacy compared to other students once they began school.
Ms Pascoe and Professor Brennan called on all governments to extend preschool to three-year-olds across the country, with priority for disadvantaged children.
The NSW government became the first to act on that call when Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a $200 million program in June to subsidise fees for all three-year-olds enrolled in community preschools.
The federal Labor policy would have to be negotiated at the Council of Australian Governments if Mr Shorten takes power at the next election, given the states and territories have responsibility for preschool and kindergarten.
The federal cash would go to the states and territories in a partnership agreement rather than going directly to parents or education providers.
While the NSW government program for three-year-olds begins on January 1, the federal Labor pledge for the same age group would only start in the 2021 school year.
The existing federal scheme costs $440 million to fund preschool for 348,000 children, leading to a rough calculation of about $1,264 for each child each year.
The Labor scheme would continue this but would double the number of children being helped by bringing in three-year-olds.
How quickly this would be rolled out would be subject to talks with each state and territory, given the need to build up the capacity of preschools and kindergartens to educate more children.
“Our investment will help close the gaps created by disadvantage, it will help tackle the inequality faced by children born into low-income households who are currently denied educational opportunities that their peers may have,” Mr Shorten says in a draft of his remarks to be made on Thursday.
“If I’m elected prime minister, I’m determined to deliver on government’s most important job: handing on a better deal to the next generation.
“This isn’t just an investment in the future of our children – it’s an investment in the future productivity of our nation.”
The Labor promise is to offer a subsidy rather than free education, given its scheme would only cover a portion of the preschool fees.