Monday, August 5, 2013

Government spends $450m on after hours school care - Brisbane Times

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Kevin, kids and the cost of living

Kevin Rudd unveils a $450 plan to use schools for child care - and says the money is already allocated in the budget.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced $450 million to improve before and after hours school care in one of his last acts before the Parliament is dissolved and the government goes into caretaker mode.

In his first press conference on day one of the election campaign, Mr Rudd said that the additional money would go towards improving facilities and activities at around 500 schools

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announces funding for before and after school care with the Minister for Early Childhood, Childcare and Youth Kate Ellis.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announces funding for before and after school care with the Minister for Early Childhood, Childcare and Youth Kate Ellis. Photo: Andrew Meares

"A kids' development doesn't just begin at 9 and end at 3," Mr Rudd told reporters in Canberra. Mr Rudd said that the money would go into services like music programs, supervised sport and homework clubs.

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He said the before and after school plan would have a "triple benefit" in providing better services for children, more flexibility for parents and boosting employment participation - in particular, for women.

Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis said the funding would provide about 68,000 extra places for school children.

"This is a good announcement but it is a very smart investment," she said.

Last month, Fairfax Media reported a crisis in after hours school care places in parts of Sydney, where children were waiting years to gain access.

Ms Ellis said that services would tender to get access to the funding.

Mr Rudd said the plan had been "carefully" costed and was within the bounds set by the government's economic statement handed down last Friday.

"We have budgeted for this. It's allocated," he said.

Families would continue to be eligible for the 50 per cent Child Care Rebate (of up to $7500 a year), Mr Rudd said.

"The bottom line is the Child Care Rebate remains," he said.

Mr Rudd, who has three adult children, said his kids spent time in after hours care.

"It is a very good service," he said.

The Child Care Rebate is not means tested and applies to before and after school care as well as most long day care and family day care, some occasional care and some in-home care.

The new $450 million fund would allow up to 500 schools to offer more flexible opening hours, more places and new high-quality activities such as homework clubs, music lessons and supervised sport.

It is not yet known which schools will benefit.

The government says schools and outside school after hour care providers will have to apply for the funding based on local need. If the program was successful next year, the government would then consider rolling it out to more schools.

Mr Rudd said about 345,000 children, aged mostly between 5 and 12, stood to benefit from the initiative, aimed squarely at addressing the long-running political problem of cost-of-living.

Ms Ellis said the program would not be means-tested but the services would apply through a competitive tender process to unlock the cash available.

The education announcement builds on the federal government's education message, which is centred on its plan to boost primary and secondary school funding by $15 billion over the next six years.

Queensland was in last-minute talks with the federal government ahead of caretaker mode beginning on Monday night but a pre-election deal appeared unlikely.

Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory are the only jurisdictions not to have locked in an agreement before the election.

The chairwoman of the National Out of School Hours Services Association, Robyn Monro Miller, said the funding would go a long way if spent wisely.

''We hope the investment will target the areas where the need is greatest,'' she said.

''There are some isolated and rural communities where no service exists and parents are crying out for one. There are services who are really struggling to provide care for children with additional needs ... and then, obviously, there's services where demand is outstripping supply.''

With Amy McNeilage


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