A drought-relief payment made to three Hunter preschools has sparked questions about how the state government’s $3 million scheme was rolled out.
Hunter Mobile Preschool, Branxton Preschool and Greta Community Preschool have shared in almost $33,000 to help them withstand the financial impacts of drought.
The preschool’s didn’t apply for the money and learned of their windfall via email or an online education portal.
Branxton Preschool director Natalie Caslick said the government had not explained how the money should be spent and she felt they weren’t entitled to the $11,100 payment – even though some of their children lived on farms.
She said the preschool’s families had dug deep for drought-stricken farmers and taken part in a massive appeal that delivered supplies to farms between Denman and Cobar.
She knows the lack of rain is having a huge toll on farmers physically, emotionally, and financially – she has family on a dairy farm at Denman.
“We feel really bad for receiving it to be honest … There’s no specification on what it is or any engagement from the Department of Education,” she said.
We’ve applied for quite a number of different things - but not drought relief, and we’ve always missed out ... and then this comes and we didn’t apply for it.
Early Childhood Minister Sarah Mitchell’s office said preschools could spend the one-off payment on transport, fee subsidies for families, crisis management planning, staff training or future-proofing service facilities.
Funding was given to community preschools within drought-affected, drought and intense drought regions - which were also classified as inner regional, outer regional, remote or very remote, the office said.
The number of children attending the preschool was also taken into account.
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About 400 community preschools across the state received a payment. The fund is part of a broader drought package that focuses on helping farmers and their communities.
I spend a lot of time in our country towns so I see the effects of the drought firsthand every day. It’s obvious how hard it is for our communities at the moment, so it’s important as a government we help out where we can,Early Childhood Minister Sarah Mitchell said.
“Since the drought payments were announced, I have visited a number of regional preschools who have been very grateful for the helping hand the funding has given their families.”
“Everyone knows how critical early childhood education is for our youngsters, and I’m proud we are making life a little easier for families and preschools across the state during these tough times.”
Ms Caslick said a committee meeting was held last week to discuss their next move.
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“We are going to really have to think about what we do with it and make sure that it is something very respectful and purposeful,” she said.
Hunter Mobile Preschool, which operates in drought-stricken Gresford, Vacy and Wollombi, will use its $17,000 payment to keep fees stable in 2019.
Coordinator Sarah Spinks said families would have been charged an extra $2 per day next year - due to rising operating costs, if the payment had not come.
Since we’ve received this we will be able to hold off on that so we won’t be putting any more financial pressure on our families,“Since we’ve received this we will be able to hold off on that so we won’t be putting any more financial pressure on our families,” she said.
Greta Community Preschool will put its $4800 towards a water tank to nourish their garden and hopefully have enough left over to replace old gutters.
“It’s a rarity to get money in our industry. I thought it would go to ones that are more rural and remote. We do a lot of gardening and water play and at the moment we are using town water for that,” director Nicole Standen said.