1. As part of the Government’s efforts to give every child a good start, the following changes were announced at the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) Committee of Supply (COS) 2020 debates to better support preschool operators and families
a. Extension and enhancement of preschool support schemes – to incentivise operators to develop more quality and affordable places for families;
b. Maximum preschool subsidies for low-income households under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) Public Rental Scheme or MSF’s ComCare schemes – to provide greater certainty and reduce administration for families;
c. Extension of Preschool Opportunity Fund for low-income families – to help children better access developmental activities;
d. Scaling up and Growing Together with KidSTART – to increase Government and community support for children from low-income families.
2. These enhancements build on moves introduced since 2012, including the medium-term plans announced at National Day Rally (NDR) 2019 (please see Annex A)
a. Enhance the affordability of preschools to be closer to primary school levels by (i) enhancing means-tested subsidies from 1 Jan 2020; and (ii) lowering fee caps, starting with Partner Operators from 1 Jan 2021; and
b. Enhance the accessibility of affordable, quality preschools by increasing government-supported preschool places from just over 50 percent today to about 80 percent by around 2025.
More Support for Preschool Operators
Extension and Enhancement of Preschool Support Schemes
3. To incentivise preschool operators to develop more quality and affordable places for families, the Government will extend and enhance three support schemes, and streamline them into a single Infrastructure Support Grant (ISG) to help preschools defray infrastructure-related expenses. The ISG will help the following categories of preschool operators (subject to eligibility conditions)
a. Non-profit operators that set up new childcare centres (or expand existing centres) at HDB Open Selection Process void deck sites;
b. Non-profit and commercial operators of kindergartens that wish to convert to new full-day childcare centres to better meet local demand; and
c. Non-profit and commercial operators that set up new childcare centres near workplaces.
4. In addition, the Government will open up the ISG to new childcare centres at Community/Sports Facilities Scheme (CSFS) premises. Under CSFS, bonus gross floor area allowance is currently provided to developers/owners of qualifying commercial developments, to incentivise them to set aside space for childcare centres.
5. The existing Portable Rental Subsidy Scheme and the Teaching & Learning (T&L) Resources Grant will be extended and enhanced. These schemes help preschools, which are not Anchor Operators (AOP) or Partner Operators, defray rental costs and support their quality improvement efforts, respectively. Please see Annex B for details.
More Support for Low-Income Families
Maximum Subsidy for Public Rental and ComCare Families
6. With enhanced means-tested preschool subsidies announced at NDR 2019 implemented from Jan 2020, more low-income families with working mothers are now paying $3 per month for full-day childcare at AOP preschools.
7. In addition, the Government will do more to support low-income families with non-working mothers, to provide them with greater certainty on the amount of subsidies they will receive and reduce the administrative burden for them to qualify for subsidies.
8. Building on enhancements to the Special Approval framework in COS 2019, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will automatically qualify families under HDB’s Public Rental Scheme, or receiving ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance or Long-Term Assistance for the working mother Basic Subsidy and maximum Additional Subsidy for children, regardless of the mother’s working status, upon application for Special Approval. Unlike the current support via Special Approval and Child Care Financial Assistance, which could be shorter in duration, this subsidy will hold until the next point of assessment (e.g. end of Nursery 2).
9. If such families opt for half-day kindergartens run by AOPs or MOE, they will also automatically qualify for maximum subsidies under the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) upon application.
10. In addition, for new enrolments into childcare centres or kindergartens from these families, we will facilitate applications for Start-Up Grants (SUG), which defray the initial costs of enrolment such as uniforms and deposit. These families need not submit supporting documents for SUG applications if prevailing criteria are met.
11. These enhancements are in line with the Government’s efforts to coordinate social services for low-income groups, by linking assistance schemes across the preschool, social and housing sectors. These changes take effect from Aug 2020.
Extension of Preschool Opportunity Fund for Low-income Families
12. The Preschool Opportunity Fund (PSOF), which helps children access developmental activities such as excursions and speech & drama programmes at their preschools for free , will be extended. It benefits children from families with monthly household income not exceeding $4,500, or who are assessed to be at risk .
13. Parents and operators have given positive feedback about PSOF, observing that it has aided children in developing their social and language skills, among other positive outcomes.
14. Under PSOF, preschools can be given up to $1,300 for each qualifying child for each project. Projects will be funded for up to one year. Funding may be renewed, subject to assessment of project outcomes.
Scaling up and Growing Together with KidSTART
15. Under the KidSTART programme, ECDA provides upstream, holistic support to children aged 0-6 from low-income families. KidSTART currently benefits over 1,000 children in three regions . The Government will expand KidSTART to more regions to reach another 5,000 children over the next three years, starting first with Woodlands. The monthly household income ceiling will be raised from $1,900 today to $2,500 from Apr 2020, so that more families can be eligible for KidSTART.
16. Even as the Government steps up support, it is important to strengthen community support for KidSTART families. Since the Growing Together with KidSTART initiative was announced in Sep 2019, interested corporates and individuals have stepped forward. The aim is to facilitate deeper and more sustained giving relationships with KidSTART children and families. More information on KidSTART can be found at Annex C, and while examples of partners who have contributed to Growing Together with KidSTART are at Annex D.
A Good Start for Every Child
17. Overall, the Government will increase its annual spending on the early childhood sector from around $1 billion today to more than $2 billion within the next few years. Together, we will provide a good start for every child.