NSW will be the first state to provide access for all children to attend two years of preschool, saving families as much as $800 a year and providing a strong start to early education.
In a bid to help families with the rising cost of living, the state government will spend $200 million to subsidise fees for all three-year-olds enrolled in community preschools from January 1.
But it will also encourage parents to send their children to preschool for two years, which research has shown is crucial to the long-term academic and social success of children.
The subsidy was previously only for children in the year before school but as part of Tuesday’s state budget it will be extended to three-year-olds to boost the number of children in preschool.
It will cover children who attend preschool for two days a week and it is expected about 6500 three-year-olds will benefit from the new funding in 2019.
The funding will see fees drop to as low as $19 a day in Sydney and even lower in regional areas and the government says it will save families, on average, $825 a year.
An OECD report released last year found that Australia was lagging significantly behind other countries in terms of the number of three-year-olds enrolled in high-quality preschool programs.
The report found that 15-year-olds with two years of quality preschooling consistently out-performed their peers with one or no years of early education in PISA science assessments, scoring 25 points higher on average.
Attendance at a preschool also has a significant positive impact on later NAPLAN outcomes and on social and cognitive development, especially among disadvantaged students.
Data from the Australian Early Development Census shows that children who have attended preschool are significantly less likely to be developmentally vulnerable when starting school compared to those who have not.
The government will also spend more than $42 million on capital works to deliver almost 5000 extra community preschool places in areas where the population is booming.
The Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the new policy would ease cost of living pressures for families while boosting access to early childhood education.
“We know access to early childhood education is so important in preparing our children for school,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said universal access to two years of preschool education would benefit disadvantaged and middle income families.
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“Benefits from two years of quality early childhood education include stronger student performance in NAPLAN and PISA, as well as longer term benefits such as increased likelihood of university attendance, higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes,” Mr Perrottet said.
“I am proud the NSW Government is leading the nation when it comes to ensuring all children have access to these powerful resources.”
The early childhood education minister, Sarah Mitchell, said children across the state would “reap the benefits of this new investment”.
“The NSW Government’s Start Strong program was introduced in 2016 and has already had a huge impact for children in the year before school, with a reduction in average daily fees by 25 per cent and an increase in enrolments across NSW by 40 per cent,” she said.
The state will also announce 100,000 free apprenticeships in the budget, as part of a $285 million skills and training package.