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Preschool funding row over as SA signs on

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A six-month kindergarten funding stand-off is over, with the Weatherill Government agreeing to the latest Commonwealth offer to maintain 15 hours of preschool tuition a week for the next two years, InDaily can reveal.

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Funding limbo

The decision was passed at yesterday’s cabinet meeting in Mount Gambier.

Arrangements for next year have been in limbo since May, when then-Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne announced a funding offer of $840 million over two years to continue to top up preschool programs across Australia, with the current arrangement expiring at the end of this term.

But none of the states signed on, citing concerns about the proposed payment structure, which required schools to meet a 95 per cent attendance rate or risk losing funds.

Earlier this month, Pyne’s successor Simon Birmingham submitted a revised “formal offer”, but not before months of uncertainty, with kindergartens unable to guarantee tuition beyond the state-subsidised 12 hours (two days) a week.

Educators and the state’s Pre-school Directors Association have told InDaily the delay was throwing staffing arrangements into chaos, while parents were in the dark about whether to make arrangements for two or three days of preschool attendance.

In a statement, State Education and Child Development Minister Susan Close said the new offer had “addressed South Australia’s concerns” on universal access to early childhood education.

“I am pleased that our governments have agreed on our shared commitment to providing 15 hours [two-and-a-half days] a week of preschool education,” she said.

“Our preschool leaders also now have certainty and can plan their services and availability for the next two years.

“This funding offer is especially excellent news for SA parents and the 20,000 children who could have been affected by changes to the universal access funding.”

This year’s Productivity Commission report into childcare and early childhood learning found 15 hours a week of preschool for 40 weeks a year was necessary for children’s development ahead of school.

The Commonwealth has thus far funded the additional half day, but the Australian Education Union has long been frustrated with the ad hoc and short-term nature of the agreements.

“It’s a crucial issue for us,” AEU national secretary Correna Haythorpe told InDaily last month.

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