Clare Jones is hoping her son, Rory, will be able to access one day of free three-year-old preschool when the scheme rolls out in the ACT from next year.
"I thought it would be a great opportunity to have access to that kind of play-based education because it's very important for the little ones to get ready for school and spend a little bit of time away from mum and dad or whoever has been caring for them and get used to that school environment," Mrs Jones said.
Here's what you need to know about how the scheme will work.
High-quality early learning has huge benefits for children in their social, emotional and cognitive development.
University of Canberra academic lead in early childhood education, Association Professor Kate Highfield, said children experiencing adversity or from diverse language backgrounds would particularly benefit from access to early education.
"The benefits come from high-quality [early education], and I can't emphasise that phrase, high-quality, enough because this is not just babysitting," she said.
"[These are] skilled educators who can respond to a child's needs to identify what that child is interested in what they are learning, and then build on those skills."
More affordable early education and care also helps parents re-enter the workforce.
Children who turn three before April 30, 2024, will be eligible for the free preschool scheme. Families must be eligible for and accessing the child care subsidy and be an ACT resident. About 5000 children in the ACT will be eligible.
The scheme provides for 300 hours of free preschool, which works out to be one day per week. If a child is enrolled in long day care or more than one day per week, families will have to pay for the additional hours.
There are 130 providers who have signed on to offer free three-year-old preschool. Here is a map of the providers:
The providers must have a quality preschool program with degree-qualified early childhood teachers or have a transition agreement with the Education Directorate. They need to be meeting or exceeding the national quality standards for educational programs and practice, and governance and leadership.
There are centres in all districts of Canberra taking part, including early learning centres in non-government schools, not-for-profit and commercial centres.
The scheme is not operating in ACT public preschools as these are for children aged 4 and over by the April 30 cut-off date.
The providers will get $2500 per student enrolled in the three-year-old preschool program. This is made up of a program payment of $1171 and fee-relief payment of $1329. The program payment can be used for evidence-based measures to ensure the quality of learning, such as training for staff.
The fee-relief payment goes towards covering the gap fee for 300 hours of preschool. The gap fee is the difference between the centre's fees and the child care subsidy the family receives.
Associate Professor Highfield said the scheme effectively used the current federal subsidy system for a Territory-based initiative.
"I actually think it's commendable that the government's done it this way, because it's enabling parents to access the current childcare subsidy funding that they're eligible for and then focusing it in for these three-year-olds."
Ideally every child will get access to free preschool in the centre of their choice, but it's possible that some will miss out if they cannot attend one of the 130 partner providers.
Wonderschool operations manager Sarah Wilcox said there were still questions about whether the program would achieve its aims.
"It is not being made available to all providers, which means that it is not universal access and families don't have the choice to send their children to just any service," Ms Wilcox said.
"Potentially, families will choose the services where they know they can receive a reduction in fees."
One of the constraints that could hamper the scheme is staff shortages.
"I have concerns about the capacity to attract and retain quality early childhood teachers," Ms Wilcox said.
"Given the changes in the cost of living lately, this I think is also having an impact on individuals' career decision-making that will only exacerbate the challenges faced by the sector."
Families can look at finding a place in a service that is participating in the free three-year-old preschool scheme, however this might not always be feasible.
Associate Professor Kate Highfield said parents will need to make decisions based on what meets their needs, particularly for shift workers.
"I don't want to say shop around because I don't think that's correct. I think it's about looking at what's right for your family."
Mrs Jones, whose son is not already in childcare, is hoping she will be able to find a local provider who can offer just the free hours offered under the scheme.
"Ideally, I'd love somewhere local a on days that are suitable for our schedule," she said.
"Hopefully within that 130 providers there's a spot but it can be tricky. I've heard ... it can be hard to get a spot so I'll be doing some ringing around very soon."
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