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Govt’s preschool subsidy only for NTUC and PCF kindergartens?

Leong Sze Hian

In their joint-reply to letters to the Straits Times forum page, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) and the Education Ministry (MOE) defended the Government’s policy on pre-school subsidies. (Click here to read the letters.)

In February, the Government announced a $290 million investment in the preschool sector, over five years. Among the initiatives is more funding for kindergartens. However, this applies to only kindergartens run by the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the PAP Community Foundation (PCF).

The ministries’ replies did not address the question of why state funds, which are taxpayers' money, are being used to give NTUC - My First Skool (formerly NTUC Childcare) – and PCF kindergartens an unfair competitive advantage over privately run kindergartens?

Is there not a conflict of interest when the ruling Government decides that money to parents under the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KFAS) can only go to two kindergarten operators that are headed by Members of Parliament (MPs) who are part of the Government in the case of PCF, and a cabinet minister as well as MPs in the case of NTUC?

Is this not a case of anti-competitive behaviour, which the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) should look into?

What kind of message are we sending to entrepreneurs - that competitors that are linked to Government are more equal than others?

No freedom of choice for parents?

Shouldn't parents be given the freedom of choice to choose the best kindergarten for their children? What if the only 'eligible' kindergartens with vacancies are much farther from their homes than 'ineligible' private kindergartens?

As I understand that the 240 'eligible' kindergartens are often fully enrolled, some parents may end up being unable to avail themselves of the KFAS, or may have to pay more for transport costs, extra travelling time, etc.

With the huge $1,700 jump in the household criterion to $3,500, many more households will qualify, which I believe may be beyond the current vacancy capacity of the 'eligible' kindergartens.

It may also not be good for some children who may have to transfer from a familiar 'ineligible' kindergarten to an 'eligible' one.

Some private kindergartens have lower fees?

If private kindergartens can charge comparable fees to 'eligible' kindergartens, and provide the timing, services, quality, location, costs, convenience, etc, that suit the requirements of parents, I see no reason why their freedom of choice should be curtailed.

In this connection, according to the listing of kindergartens' fees on the MOE web site, some private kindergartens have lower fees than the 'eligible' ones.

When the Budget statement announced the KFAS household income eligibility increase, why was it not made clear then that private kindergartens are not eligible? This may have caused some inconvenience to parents and private kindergartens, as time, travelling costs and effort may have been wasted in making enquiries.

$290 million upgrading funds for PCF and NTUC only?

How will the $290 million investment in the preschool sector, over five years, be implemented?

Why is it that this funding to help kindergartens keep fees affordable, upgrade centres and programmes, etc, will only go to PCF and My First Skool kindergartens?

After all, aren't these kindergartens already generally enjoying lower rents than the market rates that private kindergartens pay?

By the way, NTUC kindergartens (My First Skool) recently sent parents a notification dated 31 March – after the subsidy initiatives by the Government were announced - that the current $615.25 monthly fee before subsidy for full-day nursery playgroup will be increased to $642 from 1 July. (See here, here and here.)

For one parent I spoke to who sends her child to My First Skool in Toa Payoh Central, her after subsidy $305 monthly fee for full-day playgroup will be increased to $355 from 1 July.

The last time My First Skool raised its fees was in 2008, shortly after kindergarten subsidies were increased.