2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools FAQs
Find answers to the questions most frequently asked about the 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program.
General operational information
Community and mobile preschools funded under the Start Strong for Community Preschool program or the Mobile Preschool Funding Program do not need to apply for funding. Funding will be automatically applied for services that are eligible for Start Strong for Community Preschools or the Mobile Preschool Funding Program and have signed the Funding Agreement.
Approved providers of community preschool services who are not currently funded through Start Strong can contact the NSW Department of Education to find out how they can be included in Start Strong funding by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Approved providers are not permitted to increase their service fees to offset the benefits of the fee relief payment. The department expects fees to be maintained at fee levels of the previous years where fees were charged to families, adjusted for the Consumer Price Index across this time period.
If services need to adjust fees above the Consumer Price Index, such as due to reasonable increases in operating costs, evidence must be retained to support the fee increase.
The department will be monitoring daily fees and additional charges, through the Annual Preschool Census, annual reporting, and compliance processes. For more information, please refer to Section 4.4 Fee guidelines in the program guidelines.
Community preschool services funded under Start Strong are required to give equal priority of access to children outlined in Section 3.3. There is no order of priority assigned, the priority of access guidelines is intended to assist services in allocating places to children in the greatest need.
While enrolment decisions are at the discretion of the service, the department encourages services to consider the community needs and maximise the number of children enrolled for 600 hours. Services should also consider the hours children are enrolled at other funded services when making enrolment decisions.
Children who are 6 years old will be eligible for funding where they have been granted a formal exemption from the NSW Department of Education and have a Certificate of Exemption. The exemption should be in place by the time the child turns 6 years old.
It is the responsibility of families to seek formal exemption from the NSW Department of Education.
General funding rates and payment
Start Strong funding, including fee relief is based on enrolment data – not attendance.
If a child is enrolled at your service and does not attend due to reasons such as medical conditions or extended holidays, the funding payment for this enrolment does not get impacted due to low attendance. It is the service’s business decision to decide the process regarding holding the position for the family.
No negative adjustments will be applied for services whose new SEIFA decile would lead to a funding reduction for 2024. This means that the 2024 funding allocation for these services will be based on existing SEIFA bands and their respective funding rates. Information on SEIFA classification transition arrangements is available in the Start Strong Guidelines (see Appendix 1.7).
Start Strong funding, including fee relief funding, is paid to services who then pass it on to families in the form of reduced fees.
While families can access fee relief at only one service for their child, there will be no impact on program funding amounts for both services that the child attends. Each service will be provided the full allocation of program payment in line with the program funding calculations for each eligible enrolment.
From 2024, the Start Strong for Community Preschool funding will be delivered on a calendar year basis. Funding will continue to be paid on a quarterly basis, with allocations based on the Annual Preschool Census held in August.
Funding is expected to follow the schedule below:
- December (Quarter 1) for period January – March 2024
- April (Quarter 2) for period April – June 2024
- July (Quarter 3) for period July - September 2024
- October (Quarter 4) for period October – December 2024.
The funding rates outlined in Start Strong program guidelines do not include GST.
If your provider is GST registered, you will receive funding payments that include GST. Conversely, if your provider is not GST registered, you will receive payments without GST.
Fee relief application to families
All children aged 3 years old and above, who have a birthday on or before 31 July 2024 are eligible for the program and fee relief payment. In addition, as per Section 3.2 of the Start Strong for Community Preschool program guidelines, a child will need to:
- be attending an eligible early childhood education program
- not be in compulsory schooling.
Children who are 6 years old will be eligible for funding where they have been granted a formal exemption from the NSW Department of Education and have a Certificate of Exemption.
To ensure that all eligible children are getting access to 600 hours of low or no cost preschool, regardless of the setting in which they receive it, fee relief can only be accessed at one community preschool at any given time. This means families cannot access 2 rounds of fee relief.
At each service their child is enrolled, parents/legal guardians must complete a declaration form to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from. For mixed service centres/multipurpose centres, families will need to nominate which preschool program they will access fee relief for.
Families must complete the declaration form prior to fee relief being applied.
Community and mobile preschool services will need to complete consent forms in addition to the declaration form. See section 5.1 of the guidelines for further information.
Services must provide parents/legal guardians with declaration forms and retain completed forms for auditing purposes.
Families cannot access fee relief unless they complete a fee relief declaration form. Services are encouraged to work with families to understand any concerns or barriers to completing the declaration forms to support all eligible children to receive the fee relief.
Services should record why a family has not been able to complete a declaration form.
Declaration forms should be completed prior to children attending your service in 2024. This will ensure fee relief is provided to families from their first week of attendance.
Services can refer families to the Start Strong for families page for a handy summary of fee relief information.
Families can only access fee relief at one community preschool or long day care service at any given time. At each service their child is enrolled, parents/legal guardians must complete a declaration form to nominate which service they will access the fee relief from.
Services are not responsible for repaying any fee relief funding provided to families who have incorrectly asked for it at their service. The NSW Department of Education will monitor access to fee relief through fee relief data submissions in 2024.
When a family wishes to change their nominated service to claim fee relief, the family must:
- ensure the other service is participating in the Start Strong program
- complete a new declaration form and return it to the current service indicating that the family has chosen another service to receive fee relief
- complete another declaration form for the new service indicating the family chooses this service to receive fee relief
- all these steps should be done prior to the new service applying fee relief for the family.
Service providers are required to retain all completed declaration forms for auditing purposes.
Families can only access fee relief at one community preschool or long day care service at any given time.
Where a family has mistakenly claimed fee relief from 2 different services at the same time, service providers should instruct the family to complete 2 new declaration forms indicating which service they nominate to access fee relief from.
Services are not responsible for repaying any fee relief funding provided to families who have incorrectly asked for it at their service.
Management of surplus funds
Reserved funds are fee relief funds which have not been utilised because there are fewer children claiming fee relief at your service than you have been funded for.
Surplus funds are what remains of a child’s fee relief allocation after their daily fees are reduced as much as possible. Depending on your service’s fee structure there may be no surplus funds (for example, if your daily fees are higher than the child’s allocation of daily fee relief).
If a previously vacant enrolment place is filled partway through a term, any fee relief funding that was reserved for the weeks prior to the enrolment being filled (in the same term) can be considered surplus fee relief funds and be expended as per the program guidelines.
If an enrolment place is vacated partway through a term, that place's remaining fee relief funding for the remainder of the term must be reserved (unless an eligible child is enrolled and wants to claim fee relief). If at the end of that term, the enrolment place has not been filled, for that term the remaining funds can be considered surplus fee relief funds.
For more information, please refer to the 2024 Start Strong for Community Preschools program guidelines.
Providers are encouraged to expend 2024 surplus fee relief funds in accordance with Section 4.3 spending rules.
Providers will be required to outline their fee relief usage, including reserved fee relief (if any) via an online collection in early 2025. Providers that note an amount of reserved fee relief funds in the online collection will have their funds offset against a later fee relief payment in 2025.
More information on the fee relief online collection will be made available closer to the release of the collection process.
The department understands that some providers may have a surplus at the end of their reporting period, which needs to be returned to the department according to the Terms and Conditions. Surplus refers to the program payment surplus and any surplus fee relief remaining after all fees and/ or charges are reduced to zero for families accessing fee relief at the service. Please see Sections 4.2 and 4.3 for more information on spending rules.
Surpluses will be identified and validated through the annual acquittal process, at which point services can apply to retain surpluses above the nominated thresholds.
Services that have an operational need to retain the surplus are required to submit a form outlining their need to retain the surplus amount as per Section 5.6 of the program guidelines.
An adjustment typically takes 8-12 weeks to process. This timeframe is subject to the completeness and accuracy of information provided to the department, which is used for application assessment and funding calculation purposes.
Transition to School Statements
Yes, the digital statement is a free, collaborative tool to support the transition to school for NSW children. Where access to the digital statement is not possible, the Transition to School Digital Statement Form (PDF 434KB) can be completed.
The digital statement can be used in conjunction with other methods that are convenient for your service, families, and your local primary teachers. For more information, please see the Transition to School Statement.
Yes, the Transition to School Digital Statement allows for a statement to be created at each service the child is enrolled in.
This allows multiple services to provide information about the child as they present at each service, providing a more holistic picture of their learning and development, and allows early childhood education and care services to meet their requirements to access Start Strong funding.
While the platform currently only allows for statements to be sent directly to public schools, services can save a statement created on the Transition to School Digital Statement as a PDF and email it to an independent or catholic school.