After reading the article in the November issue of Bedrock (Navigating the Maze – about the NSW Government’s Start Strong program) I felt that it was important to share my preschool’s experience in this new program.
After attending the roadshow I was excited about this new funding program, as it at least took away the penalties for enrolling three year old children.
I am a director in a two unit centre in regional NSW and, like the other directors that were featured in the story, we too do not have enough four and five year old and equity children to fill our centre. We rely on three year old children and, at times, two year olds.
I also had completed enrolments before this funding came out and the timing was difficult. We still had several vacancies due to the high fees. After attending the roadshow and finding out our new funding we were excited, as this was an increase.
We were able to significantly reduce fees (as per the requirements) and fill the centre before the close of the year for the first time in a couple of years since they took the three year old funding away. Our three year old fees were $68.
We changed our hours to meet the requirements for 600 hours so at least our two day children would meet the 600 hours and we would receive part funding for one day children.
We also reduced our cap level to 80 thinking that this was still in (with the old system) so we would not be penalised with funding (before we knew about Start Strong).
I went to enrol in the February census as I believed from the roadshow that we would receive more funds, only to find that the Department had already recorded our hours as open from 8.30am to 4.30pm even though we were very clear on our census that our core hours were 9am to 3pm, with extended hours operating in these other times.
This means that we will not receive any extra money and will actually lose money as we have fewer children – as I worked towards our cap level when I completed enrolments.
I am disappointed that we have made these changes for no increase in funding and our fees were lowered significantly. I am concerned about when the new system fully kicks in – we were expecting more funding as we changed our core hours considerably.
I have taught for 30 years and I believe that three year old children also need to attend. For preschools to remain viable we simply do not have enough four year olds and equity children. The saturation of services in our area is also a problem. The Department continues to say you need to market for these children but we cannot just invent four and five year olds and equity children if they are not in the area.
I sympathise with the rural services – they must be really doing it tough. At least we have more children to draw from.
Early childhood care is an essential community service and preschool education should be available for all families. Investment in early childhood saves government money in the long run.
It is becoming harder to maintain quality, which I believe comes from good staffing levels and qualifications. I am always advocating for my quality team and maintaining my level of educators and teachers. As the funding battle continues it gets harder to convince committees that qualifications and above ratio staffing levels are essential for the wellbeing of children.