TAMWORTH’S Montessori Preschool is leading a push by the region’s preschools for equitable funding from the state government.
Preschool director Ros Hartley said a number of preschools, like hers in Carthage Street, received funding from the government but it was not enough to cover operational costs and staff wages.
“Each year parents pay higher and higher fees to make up the difference and this means many families can’t afford to send their child to preschool in the crucial years before school,” Ms Hartley said.
She estimated in terms of numbers hundreds of children aged between three and five were missing out on a preschool education, simply because of the high fees.
Ms Hartley said in most other states preschool education was free or worked out to be less than $10 a day.
“In NSW the fees range from $25 to $55 a day,” she said.
“There is a direct link between the funding the state government provides and the cost to parents.”
Some of the latest available figures show that the Western Australian state government spends $556 per child on preschool education, the highest in the country.
In the ACT it is $489 per child and in Victoria $266, compared to $190 in NSW.
Ms Hartley said a Productivity Commission Report on Children’s Services noted NSW had the highest median weekly cost of preschool, per child in the country and the lowest participation rate.
She said brain research showed children learn more in the first five years than at any other time in their life.
“This is why preschool education is so important, it sets up the architecture in the brain that enables later learning,” Ms Hartley said.
The state government undertook a review of Early Education and Care Services this time last year but it has not been released.
Ms Hartley said local preschools, together with others from around the state, were calling on the NSW government to invest another $500 million in early education to ensure every child could access preschool for $15 a day.
Manilla Preschool director Jenny Bridge said there were 25 children enrolled at Manilla Preschool each day and the average fee was between $14 and 23 a day.
“Manilla is recognised as having a lower socio-economic population and a number of our parents qualify for subsidies for their preschooling,” she said.
“But often we need to dip into fundraising money, from events we have organised, to help further supplement fees to help families who value a preschool education but aren’t able to afford the fees.”
Mrs Bridge said as a result of having to “dip into” the fundraising money other preschool resources had to be sacrificed.
Statistics from 2008 show the participation of NSW children in preschool is about 50 per cent less then that of children in other states.
“In 2008 the participation rates for NSW children in preschool was 56 per cent and in Western Australia it was 102 per cent,” Mr Bridge said.
“Those figures also showed that NSW parents were paying about $69 a day for preschool and that parents in WA were paying $9 per day.
“It’s frustrating because preschool teachers know that the learning at preschool is vital for development and the government has agreed it’s important but at the moment it seems that there is a lot of talking but no real action.”