Fresh fears about the education cash crisis have been raised as it emerges council-run nurseries are twice as likely to be in debt.
New figures released by ministers show that, compared with all other schools, nurseries are being pushed furthest to the brink by austerity.
In a parliamentary question by Labour MP Lucy Powell, the government revealed that nearly one in five maintained nursery schools (18.2%)
were in budget deficit in 2016-17, compared with one in 10 of all schools.
It means that in each of the last three years, the proportion of state-funded nursery schools in deficit has been double that of all schools.
Successful council nursery schools are vital to boosting social mobility, Powell said. While 64% are in the 30% most deprived wards in the country, 63% are graded as outstanding by Ofsted.
But swingeing cuts to local government budgets and changes to the national early years funding formula mean many nurseries face a fight for survival, with 16 across the UK having closed their doors since 2016.
In April, parents and teachers from Salford visited Parliament to tell MPs how five council-run nurseries in their area were under threat.
To deal with the budget squeeze, ministers gave the system a £59m cash injection, but this funding is due to end in 2020.
Ahead of a debate in Westminster Hall on the sustainability of nurseries on Wednesday, Powell called on the Government to prioritise early years funding in the budget on October 29.
She said: “I know ministers are personally committed to these treasured institutions but that won’t pay the bills. Funding changes and future uncertainties could see many of these wonderful early years centres of excellence close by stealth.
“We need an urgent funding settlement that safeguards the future of these vital champions of social mobility after 2020.”
The former shadow education secretary said state nurseries “embody all that is excellent” in early years and have a “proven track record” on closing the attainment gap between rich and poor children.
“It is simply inconceivable that Ministers want to preside over the wholesale closure of these much loved local institutions that have schooled generations of children,” she said.
“If the government isn’t careful, many nursery schools will close by stealth waiting for help that may never come.
“They cannot wait for the spending review. We need action now to safeguard
their future in the short term, whilst a long term fix is found so these schools can thrive and grow.”
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi said 750,000 children had benefit from the additional £59m and that the Government’s policy of offering parents 30 hours of free childcare had eased pressure on the system.
He said: “Maintained nursery schools make a valuable contribution to improving the lives of some of our most disadvantaged children – that’s why we are providing local authorities with around £60million a year up until 2020 to protect maintained nursery schools funding.
“We are also supporting low income families by providing 15 hours of free childcare to all three-and-four-year-olds, with 30 hours available for working families. In addition to this, we are providing 15 hours a week for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, which almost 750,000 children have already benefited from.
“We know that education begins at home and are offering new support to help parents by giving them practical advice on activities like reading and learning the alphabet. This will help more children master the basics of speaking, reading and writing at an early age and ensure that no child is left behind.”