A funding crisis is putting preschools out of reach of Illawarra residents and causing distress for operators who fear the most disadvantaged children could miss out.
"Families are being forced to pay ridiculous fees for a service which should be the right of every child in Australia," Keiraville Community Preschool director Margaret Gleeson said yesterday.
"Children in NSW have the same rights as children in other states. It is disgraceful and short-sighted that in 2012 funding for early childhood services is still a barrier to all children accessing education," she said.
"The NSW public would be shocked to find the rhetoric is so different to the reality."
Many preschools were forced to increase fees "yet again" in 2013 because of impossible budgets and rent hikes, she said.
The government funds just under 40 per cent of the Keiraville preschool's budget - family fees make up the difference.
Fees increased from $30 per day in 2010 to $32 in 2011, then to $39 at the beginning of 2012. There was a further rise mid-year to $42 per day. Next year they will rise to $45 a day - a rise of 50 per cent in just three years.
"One of the difficulties is, we are committed to giving access to special target groups, families in need, and we want to do that, but the funding the government gives us does not reflect the cost of supporting those families," Mrs Gleeson said.
Other Illawarra preschools were feeling the pressure too.
A survey conducted by Child Care NSW, completed by 654 childcare services across the state, found 97 per cent had increased their fees by between $4 and $7 per child per day since January this year.
Mrs Gleeson said NSW was in a "shameful situation" compared to the rest of Australia.
She said the 800 community-owned preschools in NSW were calling on the government to "fully realise the rights of preschool children by removing the barriers to preschool education caused by inadequate funding".
A 2012 Productivity Commission report on government services found the NSW government's children's services expenditure per child was $190 in 2010-11.
Queensland spent $204 per child, Victoria spent $266 per child and the highest rate per child at $1033 was in the Northern Territory.
Figtree mum Anthea Roberts said she was concerned the financial squeeze on preschools would prevent them providing "an essential start for all kids".
"It's important that preschool is equally and freely available," said Mrs Roberts, whose son Sam attends the Keiraville preschool.
"The cost prohibits preschool for some people who are disadvantaged. Schools are open to everybody."
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said yesterday real expenditure by NSW on children's services increased by 5.6 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12.
"Recently, we announced a number of initiatives totalling more than $30 million aimed at boosting access and participation to early childhood services, and moving ahead with our reforms for the sector," Mr Piccoli said.
"They build on the gains we've already made and will assist our community preschools help more families while the government waits for a decision from the Commonwealth about its intentions beyond 2013," the minister said.
"To enable more families to send their child to a preschool program, ongoing Commonwealth funding for early childhood education will be essential."