Lib Dems are making a “big liberal offer to all families” to increase childcare, leader Willie Rennie has said.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat said all two-year-olds in Scotland should benefit from 1140 hours of free early years learning – the same amount the Scottish Government has already pledged for for three and four-year-olds.
The Lib Dems would expand nursery education, making it more flexible and giving parents greater choice.
Rennie also promised his party would end the financial penalty some parents face if they choose to defer when their child starts schools – a move which can see them paying thousands of pounds in additional nursery fees.
Lib Dems hope the package of measures, announced in the run up to the May 6 Scottish Parliament election, will appeal to voters who have previously backed Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.
Speaking as he visited a nursery in Edinburgh, Rennie said: “I want to put recovery first to close the attainment gap and help children bounce back from the disruption to their learning.
“Thanks to the Scottish Liberal Democrats, two-year-olds from poorer backgrounds are already entitled to funded childcare. This should help improve their chances, but uptake in Scotland is only half what it is in England. The outreach work hasn’t been done, meaning many parents don’t even know about the entitlement.
“We will now go further and make a big liberal offer to all families. Extending childcare to all two-year-olds will boost uptake, help close the poverty-related attainment gap and help parents who want to return to work.”
Rennie said public spending watchdogs at Audit Scotland had found the SNP had made “limited” progress in tackling the attainment gap – an area previously identified by Ms Sturgeon as a key priority for her government.
The Liberal Democrat said that this “was supposedly Nicola Sturgeon’s defining mission, she asked to be judged on it”.
And he added: “We are winning votes from the SNP because people don’t want education to play second fiddle to a referendum in the next parliament.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will put recovery first with a needle-sharp focus on education and a big liberal offer for early learning and childcare.”