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Government may scrap $840m for preschools


THE Abbott Government is considerin­g abandoning its $840 million program which guarantees four-year-olds receive 15 hours of preschool a week.

The move could see teachers sacked, students’ guaranteed hours cut back, and fees rise.

The option to hand funding responsibi­lity for preschools to the states and territorie­s is proposed in a discussion paper prepared by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The draft paper has been prepared as part of the Federation reform process, which examines funding arrangemen­ts between the states and Canberra.

One option on preschools is to hand all responsibi­lities, including “policy, funding, regulation and service delivery,’’ over to the states and territorie­s when the current funding agreement ends in two years’ time.

“This would mean that states and territorie­s would be responsibl­e for funding the preschool hours delivered in long day care (currently 15 hours per week) with the Commonweal­th funding the balance through its fee assistance,’’ the options paper states.

“States and territorie­s would need to increase their expenditur­e on the sector by around $200 million to maintain current service levels.’’

How the paper reached that figure is not clear, as Canberra is currently funding the program to the tune of $406 million a year. It’s thought the states may pick up some savings to offset the losses because the Commonweal­th would take full responsibi­lity for funding childcare.

The emergence of the document threw the Government into a spin, with Education Minister Christophe­r Pyne’s office referring questions to Parliament­ary Secretary Scott Ryan and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Prime Minister’s Office referred specific questions back to Mr Pyne.

The options paper says the states taking sole responsibi­lity for preschool could improve accountabi­lity and service delivery. However, it warns it was “at odds’’ with recent moves to integrate childcare with “educationa­l elements of the sector’’.

“The option wouldn’t necessaril­y ensure fairness across the sector as a whole. It could mean some families miss out on a preschool program, particular­ly the children of working parents, if states and territorie­s decided not to fund preschools in long day care.’’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office did not directly answer questions, instead saying the $840 million it had committed over two years would deliver 600 hours of funding for preschoole­rs in 2016 and 2017.

It was revealed the same options paper also canvassed making wealthy parents pay for their children to get a public school education.

But Mr Abbott insisted: “The Australian Government does not and will not support a means test for public education, full stop, end of story”.

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