The NSW Government has handed down the 2022/23 NSW Budget today. Following on from announcements over the past week, the Budget provides more detail on the Government’s plans to improve access to early childhood education and care over the next four years. Total expenditure in 2022-23, directed at achieving a sustainable, accessible, high-quality early childhood education sector will be $1.1 billion. Significant new investments include:
- $97.6 million ($722.7 million in recurrent expenses over four years) to continue to provide fee relief for children aged three to five years in community, mobile and Department of Education preschools through the Affordable Preschool Program which will replace Start Strong Free Preschool from January 2023. The existing core funding to community preschools will continue through the Start Strong funding program.
- $80.3 million ($594.6 million in recurrent expenses over four years) to provide fee relief of up to $2,000 per child per year for four to five years old children attending preschool in long day care.
- $53.1 million ($281.6 million in recurrent expenses over four years) to ensure quality, retention, and supply of early childhood educators to address existing serious shortages and build for future demand. This funding is expected to benefit over 18,000 future and current early childhood teachers and educators and will be used across a range of programs including:
- early childhood teacher higher education scholarships of up to $25,000 to provide financial support while studying bachelor-level qualifications; students could also be eligible for a completion incentive payment if they remain employed in the early childhood education and care sector
- scholarships for students undertaking VET qualifications of up to $2,000, in addition to the skills support available under JobTrainer and Smart and Skilled programs
- early childhood teacher supports, including supplements for employers who demonstrate best-practice workforce strategies.
- $40.2 million ($53.4 million in recurrent expenses over four years) for planning, consultation, and early steps in the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten for all children in New South Wales in the year before school.
- $15.5 million ($64.1 million in recurrent expenses over four years) to trial funding in 2023 and 2024 for three-year old preschool programs in long day care.
- $6.6 million ($27.3 million in recurrent expenses over four years) for developmental checks in preschools in both metropolitan and rural areas. This is part of a combined package of $111.2 million over four years jointly delivered by the Department of Education and NSW Health through the Brighter Beginnings initiative.
- $5.2 million ($24.7 million in recurrent expenses over four years) to build data capability and to partner more closely with early learning services to deliver these reforms, offering tailored and proactive support for services that need and want it and helping providers start new services in areas that need them most.
- $18.0 million ($37.9 million recurrent expenses over three years) to improve access to Before and After School Care (BASC) programs, including targeted transport services and innovative solutions to support BASC delivery in areas currently lacking a service. The commitment includes $16.2 million over two years to increase access to BASC services for students in regional and rural schools.
- $28.3 million recurrent expenses for the North Coast Flood Recovery Education Support Package to support the recovery of schools, ECEC services and skills providers with sites experiencing significant and extensive damage
The NSW Government will invest an additional $98.7 million to increase support for existing Aboriginal Child and Family Centres ($34.2 million) and build six new centres ($64.5 million) to deliver culturally safe services and support for First Nations families with children aged 0–8 including co-located universal health, early childhood education and other family services.
As previously announced, the NSW Government has earmarked up to $10.7 billion over 10 years for significant longer-term early childhood education reforms. This includes up to $5.0 billion for the Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund and $5.7 billion to introduce a high-quality universal pre-Kindergarten year for all children in New South Wales in the year before school by 2030.
The Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund will receive $775 million over the next four years, followed by an investment of up to $650 million per year after that, indexed to CPI. The Government anticipates that its funding to boosting accessibility and affordability of childcare will see supply boosted by about 47,000 places over several years.
The Budget papers show that performance indicators for early childhood continue to improve. This includes the proportion of enrolled children who are enrolled in an early childhood education program for at least 600 hours in the year before school exceeding the target of 95%, with 96.1% achieved in 2021-22 and 96.5% forecast for 2022-23. The proportions of Aboriginal children and vulnerable and disadvantaged children enrolled for 600 hours in the year before school have also improved and are now both forecast to exceed the 95% target in 2022-23 at 95.9% and 95.1% respectively.
Meanwhile, 86.4% of services are rated as meeting or exceeding the National Quality Standard as at 31 December 2021, above the 80% target set for 2022.