Start Strong guidelines

This document describes the objectives, approach and expectations that underpin Start Strong. Research shows that children who participate in quality early childhood education in the year before school are more likely to start school equipped with the social, cognitive and emotional skills they need to engage in learning. An average of 600 hours per year or 15 hours per week is the minimum recommended level of participation.

This approach is consistent with the NSW Government’s National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education with the Commonwealth Government. Funding is targeted to three, four and five year old children in the year before school, children aged three and above from low income and Aboriginal families, and children with disability and additional needs.

Start Strong aims to improve affordability of early childhood education and increase the number of children participating for 600 hours in a quality early childhood education program in the year before school.

Start Strong builds upon the needs based principles established under the former Preschool Funding Model (PFM) to promote universal access and priority of access:

  • higher base funding rates based on Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) score of disadvantage
  • additional equity funding for children aged 3 and over from low income or Aboriginal families and children with disability and additional needs
  • loadings for outer regional, remote and very remote services
  • loadings for English language needs
  • subsidies for non-equity 3 year old children

The department expects services that receive an increase in funding under Start Strong compared to 2016 PFM funding to reduce fees for children with priority given to reducing fees for children from low income and Aboriginal families and children with disability and additional needs.

Spending Rules for funding for non-equity three year olds

For non-equity 3 year old children, services will be required to pass through at least 50 per cent of the new base rate funding for these children. This fee pass through will be measured using the data collected through the August 2019 Preschool Census to compare a service’s reported fees in the August 2018 Preschool Census.

Fee pass through rates for this cohort will be recalculated each year according to the scaled subsidy increase over four years. Services will receive an increase in the proportion of Start Strong base rates for this new cohort of 3 year old children each year from 2019-2022 – 25% in 2019, 30% in 2020, 40% in 2021 and 50% from 2022.

Where services have a higher fee for non-equity 3 year old children than non-equity children in the year before school, it will be expected that the fee reduction first be applied to lowering fees for non-equity 3 year old children. Fees for non-equity three year olds should not be lower than non-equity children in the year before school.

If fees for non-equity 3 year old children and non-equity children in the year before school are the same, it will be expected that the fee reduction be applied to lowering fees for all children. This includes ensuring that equity fees for all children remain below non-equity fees, and that fees for non-equity three year olds not be lower than fees for children in the year before school.

Spending Rules for funding (excluding non-equity three year olds)

Services were required to pass through at least 75 per cent of the increased funding to families by lowering their daily fees. To determine the value of the funding increase, funding received by preschools from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017 was compared to the amount they received in 2016 under the Preschool Funding Model (PFM), pro-rata.

Daily fees for children from low income or Aboriginal families and children with disability (equity children) must be lower than the daily fee for non-equity children. If a service’s daily non-equity fee is lower than its daily equity fee, the service would be expected to redistribute the funds more heavily towards the equity daily fee. The fee for non-equity 3 year olds must not be lower than the fee for non-equity children in the year before school.

The department will monitor fee pass through using the data collected through the 2017 and 2018 Preschool Census to compare a service’s reported fees in the August 2016 Preschool Census. Fee reduction will be multiplied by the number of enrolments to determine whether 75% of the funding increase was utilised for fee reduction. Community preschools that have successfully reduced fees are expected to maintain 2017 fee levels, adjusted for CPI, in 2018 and future years

In exceptional circumstances where the preschool cannot reduce fees by at least 75 per cent, a justification must be provided. The department periodically conducts audits of preschool services and may request a funding compliance audit in these or other circumstances.

The department recognises that preschool enrolments may go up or down in subsequent years and that preschools may need to review fees occasionally. However, it is expected that equity fees and fees for children in the year before school remain low and as close as possible to the 2017 fees, although this can be adjusted for Consumer Price Index.

To be eligible for funding under Start Strong, a child will need to be:

  • At least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and not in compulsory schooling; and
  • Attending an early childhood education program.

Grants will not be provided for places that are Child Care Subsidy approved.

Refer to section 10 of these guidelines for the funding rates for different children.

Services are required to give equal priority of access to:

  • children who are at least 4 years old on or before the 31 July in that preschool year and not enrolled or registered at a school
  • children who are at least 3 years old on or before 31 July in that preschool year and from low income and Aboriginal families
  • children with English Language needs
  • children with disability and additional needs
  • children who are at risk of significant harm (from a child protection perspective).

There is no order of priority assigned to the list of points above. Priority must be given to the groups outlined above before any other groups, including non-equity three year olds.

The guidelines are intended to assist services with making enrolment decisions, in a way that seeks to allocate places to those in the greatest need. However, the particular community needs of the preschool will also be relevant.

The department will monitor priority of access using data collected through the voluntary March 2019 data collection to compare a service’s reported enrolment in the August 2018 Preschool Census. The department will also compare data collected through the August 2019 Preschool Census to service’s reported enrolment in the August 2018 Preschool Census to ensure priority of access. The department periodically conducts audits of preschool services and may request a funding compliance audit in these or other circumstances.

To be eligible for grants under this program as a centre-based preschool, service providers must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be a not-for-profit, community-based preschool
  • be an approved early childhood education and care service under the National Law and Regulations
  • deliver an early childhood education program designed by a degree qualified early childhood teacher in accordance with The Early Years Learning Framework (providing a structured, play-based early childhood education) under the National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education
  • comply with the Terms and Conditions of the Early Childhood Education Grants Program.

Mobile Preschools are not in scope under Start Strong. Mobile preschools on a fixed term mobile contract will continue to receive funding as per the terms of the mobile contract. Mobile preschools that elected not to enter into a fixed term mobile contract will be funded under Start Strong.

Mobile preschools on fixed term opt in contracts will have special implementation arrangements for Start Strong funding for non-equity three year olds and Start Strong equity funding for children with disability and additional needs.

Preschools continue to provide reporting via the Preschool Census which requires data to be correct, true and not misleading in any respect. Data for Start Strong is calculated based on the number of hours of enrolment that the service enters in the Preschool Census. Preschools may be audited to confirm the accuracy of data entered in the Preschool Census or any other data collection.

From 1 July 2017, only children enrolled for 600 hours will receive the maximum rate of funding, with children enrolled for fewer hours attracting a pro-rata amount according to Table 1

The number and characteristics of children enrolled for 600 hours in an early childhood education program determines the funding calculation.

The rate of base funding per child reflects the average income of families with children aged 0-5 years in the service’s Socio-Economic Index for Areas (SEIFA) Area.

Funding allocation is calculated on a per child basis and a percentage of the applicable base rate is awarded depending on hours of enrolment:

Table 1:  Funding calculation

Per child hours of enrolment offered per year

Indicative average hours per week, based on a 40 week year

Percentage of per child base rate received

600 hours or more

15 hours or more

100%

480 to less than 600 hours

12 to less than 15 hours

50%

400 to less than 480 hours

10 to less than 12 hours

35%

320 to less than 400 hours

8 to less than 10 hours

20%

Greater than 240 to less than 320 hours

greater than 6 to less than 8 hours

5%

240 hours or fewer

6 hours or fewer

Nil

Funding to services per child is calculated based on the following table:

Table 2: Funding calculation per SEIFA band

Per child hours of enrolment offered per year

SEIFA Funding Band

600 hours or more

480 to less than 600 hours

400 to less than 480 hours

320 to less than 400 hours

greater than 240 to less than 320 hours

240 hours or fewer

%

100%

50%

35%

20%

5%

0%

Band 1

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 2

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 3

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 4

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 5

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 6

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 7

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 8

$6,600

$3,300

$2,310

$1,320

$330

$0

Band 9

$6,413

$3,207

$2,245

$1,283

$321

$0

Band 10

$5,963

$2,982

$2,087

$1,193

$298

$0

Band 11

$5,893

$2,947

$2,063

$1,179

$295

$0

Band 12

$5,697

$2,849

$1,994

$1,139

$285

$0

Band 13

$5,325

$2,663

$1,864

$1,065

$266

$0

Band 14

$5,012

$2,506

$1,754

$1,002

$251

$0

Band 15

$4,759

$2,380

$1,666

$952

$238

$0

Band 16

$4,485

$2,243

$1,570

$897

$224

$0

Band 17

$4,250

$2,125

$1,488

$850

$213

$0

Band 18

$4,250

$2,125

$1,488

$850

$213

$0

Subsidies for non-equity 3 year olds are set at a proportion of the equivalent year before school base rate. This proportion is being implemented over a four year period. Funding to non-equity 3 year olds is calculated based on the following proportions of base rates:

Table 3: Non-equity 3 year old funding proportions (2019 onwards)

Year

Percentage of base rate from table 2 received

2019

25%

2020

30%

2021

40%

2022 (and ongoing)

50%

Table 4: Funding calculation per SEIFA band for non-equity 3 year olds (25% of equivalent year before school base rate, in 2019)

SEIFA Funding Band

600 hours or more

480 to less than 600 hours

400 to less than 480 hours

320 to less than 400 hours

greater than 240 to less than 320 hours

240 hours or fewer

%

100%

50%

35%

20%

5%

0%

Band 1

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 2

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 3

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 4

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 5

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 6

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 7

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 8

$1,650

$825

$578

$330

$83

$0

Band 9

$1,603

$802

$561

$321

$80

$0

Band 10

$1,491

$746

$522

$298

$75

$0

Band 11

$1,473

$737

$516

$295

$74

$0

Band 12

$1,424

$712

$499

$285

$71

$0

Band 13

$1,331

$666

$466

$266

$67

$0

Band 14

$1,253

$627

$439

$251

$63

$0

Band 15

$1,190

$595

$417

$238

$60

$0

Band 16

$1,121

$561

$393

$224

$56

$0

Band 17

$1,063

$531

$372

$213

$53

$0

Band 18

$1,063

$531

$372

$213

$53

$0

The above rates are subject to change, and are at the discretion of the department. Grants will not be provided for places that are Child Care Subsidy approved.  Table 4 shows the funding calculations for non-equity 3 year olds for 2019, where 25% of the equivalent year before school base rate will be funded

Low Income and Equity Funding

Identified targeted group

Rate per child

Detail

Aboriginal children

$6,600

Children from Aboriginal backgrounds receive the highest base rate funding across all locations.

This information must be recorded on the child’s enrolment form.

Children from low income backgrounds

$6,600

Children from a family holding a Health Care Card or pensioner concession card (where the child is a named dependent on the card) receive the highest base rate funding across all locations. The Federal Government has confirmed that Health Care Cards issued in the child's name only are not means tested. Therefore children with their own Health Care Card will not be eligible. This includes Foster Care Health Care Cards and Health Care Cards for children with disability.

Services must keep a copy of Health Care or Pensioner Concession Cards to show proof that they were valid at the time of the preschool census or for a prior period during that school year.

Children with disability and additional needs

$6,600

One of the following must be kept on record as evidence of the child’s disability or additional needs:

  • The child’s NDIS reference number
  • A copy of the most recent and relevant report, assessment or   letter that outlines the child’s disability or additional needs from a   relevant professional.  Documentation   must be on letterhead and signed by the relevant professional.

Services must keep a copy of this documentation on the child’s preschool file to show proof that they were valid at the time of the preschool census or for a prior period during that school year.

Children who are part of multiple equity groups will only be eligible for one amount of equity loading per child.

Equity funded children enrolled for fewer than 600 hours will attract a percentage of the funding rate calculated according to their hours of enrolment, as shown in Table 1.

*In recognition of the fact that 600 hours per year is not always possible for children with disability and additional needs, an exception can be granted to children with disability who are enrolled for a minimum of 300 hours per year.

Regional Loading

Services will receive an additional loading per funded child based on the ARIA+ (2011) Remoteness Classifications. The loading is not dependent on 600 hour enrolments. On top of the base rate funding:

  • Preschools in ARIA+ remote and very remote areas will receive an additional loading of $1,281 per eligible child per annum.
  • Preschools in ARIA+ outer regional areas will receive an additional loading of $871 per eligible child per annum.

The full loading will also apply for all non-equity 3 year old enrolments.

English Language Loading

Children with English language needs will receive an additional language loading of $410 across all locations. The loading will apply when the service selects ‘English Language Assistance Required’ in the Preschool Census, and is not dependent on 600 hour enrolments. This loading is provided where a child requires assistance with English language needs. It is not provided to all children with a Language Background Other than English where this assistance is not required.

The full loading will also apply for all non-equity 3 year old enrolments.

If a child requires assistance with English language needs, such as an interpreter or any other language resource, this information must be recorded  and available on file.

Higher Order Multiple base rates

The Higher Order Multiple base rate is $6,600 for each child from the third child in the multiple onwards (i.e. not for the first two children) regardless of hours enrolled across all locations.

Higher Order Multiple funding will be applied under the following circumstances:

  • Only for families with triplets or multiple children above triplets, i.e. quads, septuplets etc.
  • Only for 3, 4 and 5 year old children.

The 3 year old non-equity children funding scale will be applied to the Higher Order Multiple base rate for eligible 3 year old non-equity children.

Evidence of applicability will be based on Annual Early Childhood Education Census data that shows for the siblings:

  • Same date of birth (copy of Birth Certificate to be kept by the preschool service provider enrolling the children)
  • Same address
  • Enrolled at the same preschool.

Service Safety Net

The Service Safety Net will provide an allocation of $132,000 per annum to services that meet all of the following eligibility criteria:

  1. has a licensed capacity of 20 or fewer children under the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010
  2. has a minimum of five children aged 4 and above in in the year before school and 3 year old equity children, each enrolled for 600 hours or more per annum*
  3. has a maximum of 20 children aged 4 and above in in the year before school and 3 year old equity children enrolled (enrolments of non-eligible children are not counted for Service Safety Net purposes)
  4. has an ARIA+ classification of Inner Regional, Outer Regional, Remote or Very Remote
  5. has daily fees less than $55 per day for any child attending the service

Services receiving the Service Safety Net will not be required to follow fee pass through requirements for non-equity 3 year old children.

* A service may still qualify for the Service Safety Net if, over the last three years, it meets the minimum enrolment criteria

Indexation

Decisions regarding the application of indexation under Start Strong are made annually by the department. If indexation is applied, the department will be guided by a NSW Treasury-mandated percentage applicable to all Government agencies.

Funding payments

Funding under Start Strong is paid quarterly in advance. Funding is based on information provided by services in the annual preschool census. The Terms and Conditions of Funding must be accepted in ECCMS prior to receipt of funding. These Terms and Conditions set out annual accountability and compliance requirements. Service providers are required to certify that funds have been spent in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of the Early Childhood Education Grants Program. Performance and financial acquittals may be done either on a calendar or financial year basis.

To speak to someone about Start Strong, please contact the department’s Early Childhood Education Directorate:

Phone: 1300 755 426   Email: ecec.funding@det.nsw.edu.au

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