Federal Labor has promised to extend preschool access to three-year-olds, guaranteeing 15 hours a week of subsidised early childhood education for about 700,000 children, if it wins government.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce the $1.75 billion plan for three and four-year-olds in a speech in Melbourne on Thursday, making a pitch to parents head of the next election, due by May.
“For the first time, every three-year-old in Australia will be able to access 15 hours of subsidised early childhood education, so they can get the best start to learning,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
This comes after the federal government rejected opposition claims that hundreds of thousands of children will lose access to early education unless funding is extended beyond the next school year.
Labor leader Bill Shorten claims at least 347,000 kids will be cut off from preschool unless Prime Minister Scott Morrison stumps up more money beyond 2019.
“This is my challenge for Mr Morrison: put the money back, cancel the cuts, put the money back and make sure our four year olds get the funding they deserve,” Mr Shorten said in Brisbane on Wednesday.
“The more money that we invest in our little kids’ opportunities, the better the benefits going to be for them and for the future.”
Education Minister Dan Tehan has flatly rejected any suggestion of a funding cut.
“The government has guaranteed preschool funding,” Mr Tehan said.
“The government is working with the states and territories on future arrangements that will focus on lifting preschool participation rates, especially for disadvantaged and indigenous children.”
The coalition government is spending $440 million in 2019 to ensure 348,000 children have access to 15 hours of early learning in the year before school.
Labor is seizing on both of these figures to point out what is at stake if federal funding is not extended.
The opposition argues the funding uncertainty is not only taking a toll on parents, but also for providers trying to build a solid workforce.