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Preschool is black jellybean of education funding mix

Education funding, like a bag of mixed lollies, is a medley. There are the preferenced red raspberries: universities; the average pineapples: the VET sector and schools; and, of course, the ill-favoured black jellybeans: preschools.

This is the upshot of the Mitchell Institute for Education Policy’s recently released Expenditure on education and training in Australia report, which examined national education funding over the last 10 years.

Although preschool funding grew by the highest rate – 125 per cent – it is still by far the most poorly funded educational sector. By 2015, it had received $1.4 billion, compared to universities’ windfall of $43.1 billion.

Mitchell graph edu expenditure

But this is nothing compared to VET funding, which nosedived 4 per cent below its 2005 amount.

This affects preschools, because, in this instance, pineapples and black jellybeans are interlinked. A drop in VET funding has caused a corresponding slump in VET enrolments. A slump in VET enrolments means a drop in childcare diplomas. With the preschool sector expected to grow by 22 per cent to 2020, according to Megan O’Connell, Mitchell Institute policy program director, the prospect of a shrinking childcare workforce is “concerning”.

As well as increasing funding to the VET sector, the Mitchell Institute would like to see preschool funding amplified because it is “still quite a small amount”, despite growing by the highest percentage, said Mitchell Institute policy analyst Kate Torii.

Although one reason for paltry preschool expenditure is the sector’s size, relative to other education sectors, the novelty of government-funded early education is another factor. O’Connell explained that while we’ve only had universal preschool since 2008, the Nordic countries have had this for decades.

Aside from imbalanced funding, the Mitchell Institute is troubled by ad hoc policy that forms the basis for government spending. They would like to see a more long-term strategy that considers education holistically, not sector by sector.

O’Connell explained how this could reduce the overall outlay: more money spent in the early years could prevent widespread issues like learning difficulties. This would mean less spending later, when such issues become bigger and more expensive to address.

Given this, perhaps it’s time for preschool to lose its black jellybean funding status.

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