Childcare operators keen on scheme that caps fees

MORE than 30 applications have been submitted by childcare operators looking to join a government scheme which offers grants for centres to reduce their fees.

The partner operator (POP) scheme requires participating centres to lower their fees, which must be capped at $800 a month for full-day childcare, and attain government certification for quality.

About $250 million over five years has been set aside for the scheme, which was announced in March and aims to make quality childcare affordable to parents.

The median fee among childcare centres is about $900 a month.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said the grants will be based on the information given by each operator, but did not give further details

To be eligible for the scheme, operators must offer at least 300 childcare places, each or as a group. Those with fewer than 300 places can partner others to apply, and the ECDA said it has received several joint proposals.

Some operators said the response could have been stronger if the authorities had given more information about the scheme, such as the grant size, and more time for applicants to plan how to partner others.

Pre-School By-the-Park did not apply. Its director Loy Wee Mee said: “Due to the lack of details, many operators are hesitant and have a wait-and-see approach.”

But a spokesman for the ECDA, which released the application figures to The Straits Times, said: “This strong response from the sector is encouraging, as it demonstrates that many operators are willing to work with ECDA to deliver good-quality and affordable early childhood services to parents.”

The application deadline for the new scheme was April 10.

Operators will be appointed by the end of the year and receive funding support from 2016. It is not known how many will be selected.

Some large and mid-sized operators have applied to put all their centres on the scheme, including Presbyterian Community Services, Sweetlands Childcare and Star Learners. They each run at least 10 centres.

Other operators have applied to have just some of their centres on the scheme. Modern Montessori International (MMI), for instance, has about 30 centres, but submitted applications for only its two centres under the Hamilton Preschool brand, which charge lower fees than others under MMI.

Project manager Diana Lim, 35, has two children enrolled at Just Kids Learning Place, which applied to join the scheme.

She said: “I hope ECDA will select as many operators as possible, so more parents can benefit from lower fees.”

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