Michelle Armstrong and son Ryan Armstrong, 3, at Brooklyn preschool. Photo: Lisa Maree WilliamsNSW preschools are starting to close their doors following a funding shake-up in the early childhood education sector that has stripped government subsidies from most three-year-olds to focus greater resources on four-year-olds.
Support funding offered to preschools that are disadvantaged under the new model will be wound back next year, forcing providers to reduce places, cut days or close their doors.
A survey of providers by the Community Child Care Co-operative (NSW) found the majority believed they were likely to suffer viability problems without additional support funding. More than half of preschools had already raised fees for three-year-olds and a further 25 per cent intend to do so.
There are about 800 preschools in NSW, catering to about 32,000 children, with the new funding model aimed at better targeting children in the year before they start school and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Co-operative chief executive Leanne Gibbs said the change had resulted in financial uncertainty for the sector.
“Preschools are looking at how they will manage long term and many of them can see they will be in deep trouble,” she said. “We will see preschools closing or cutting back on quality or cutting the number of days they can offer.”
She expressed concern that the new model would put preschool, which does not attract a childcare rebate, out of reach for middle-income families.
“Families who experience disadvantage will get the full subsidy for their children to attend preschool, and families who can afford to send their children to preschool will do it, but there is this large middle group who fall through a hole,” Ms Gibbs said.
KU Children’s Services is closing its mobile preschool services in Mount Ku-ring-gai, Brooklyn and Maitland at the end of this year as they are no longer viable.
KU Children’s Services chief executive Christine Legg said the new model was having a significant impact on the non-profit organisation, which is the largest preschool provider in the state with 80 centres.
“For families it’s becoming unaffordable. For us as an operator, it’s becoming unsustainable,” she said.
“We celebrate 120 years this year. We want to be around for another 120 but the funding model we have been given is not sustainable long term.”
Michelle Armstrong, whose son Ryan attends KU’s Brooklyn centre, said its closure will force families to travel up to two hours to get to the next closest preschool.
“I believe every child is entitled to an early childhood education and the new funding model has put children in our area at a disadvantage,” she said. “The consequence of these changes means there will be no preschool locally for our children to attend despite the demand.”
Melinda Gambley, director of a community-based preschool in Clunes on the NSW north coast, said one-third of the preschools in the area were worse off under the new model, with a number considering closing within the next two years.
“The government’s stated goal is to get more children into preschool before they start kindergarten, but what we are seeing in our region is fewer children getting access to preschool because services are winding back,” she said.
A Department of Education spokesman said the funding model was “already having a positive impact”, with enrolments of children from Aboriginal backgrounds and low income families increasing by 5 per cent and enrolments of children in the year before kindergarten rising by 2 per cent.
He said support would be made available to preschools who need help adjusting to the new funding model.