INDEPENDENT NEWS

Education Minister’s Grants Build White Elephants

Published: Thu 11 Dec 2003 03:01 PM
Education Minister’s Grants May Build White Elephants
Early Childhood Council President Ross Penman questions the $8 million in capital grants Œre-announced yesterday by the Minister of Education, which will apparently be used to extend or build more community managed early childhood centres. "This is aimed at more buildings, despite the fact that nationally there appears to be 25% un-used capacity in existing centres, in a sector which is also facing falling pre-school population and a chronic teacher shortage", Penman says.
"The ECC also has serious concerns about the transparency of the allocation process, and the criteria which already excludes the majority of ece providers because they are private enterprises. By the bias inherent in the grants scheme, only parents who can choose committee managed services will benefit; most working parents will miss out.
"This money would be better allocated to increase the operational grants and this would ensure it was equitably distributed and that it benefited families using the service, rather than the construction of white elephants, that families cannot afford to use anyway. The real problem isn't building shortages or choices, but affordability.
"The ECC also questions whether taxpayer funds should be used as capital grants for building or land acquisition projects for Non-Government Organisations anyway. The State gains no ownership from these substantial grants, which sometimes exceed $1,000,000 and which sometimes have poor accountability. The real problem they are trying to solve is to seed organisations who cannot otherwise get access to capital from equity or loans. Rather than capital grants the Government could achieve the same effect by providing or underwriting repayable loans at fair interest rates. Such loans should be on the condition they create places in areas where there is no convenient excess capacity."
Penman says, "The saving from moving from grants to loans (which would be self-supporting), should go into Government operational subsidies and help reduce parent fees and sustain higher teacher wages. Alternatively the $8 million could have been used to provide free childcare for over a 1000 children of needy families."

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