CENTRAL Victorian parents could face higher preschool bills if the Coalition pulls out of an agreement that mandated and funded 15 hours a week of early years education for four-year-olds.
A single sentence contained in the 2018-19 budget alluded to the Coalition government ending in 2020 its role in the National Partnership Agreement, saving $440 million.
But state and local governments, preschool providers and Labor MPs have rallied to stop the Coalition’s withdrawal, claiming that without the federal funding share, preschools would charge more for the four-year-old program, or reduce hours.
Shine Bright early years manager Belinda Schultz said there was a lot of research around why 15 hours was optimal for learning for children, especially vulnerable children.
The group manages 28 kindergartens in north and central Victoria.
“(If the federal government pulled out of the agreement) we would be surveying families and speaking to them about what would best serve their needs,” Ms Schultz said.
Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters started a petition at Huntly Kindergarten that will be distributed among Bendigo parents.
“I just can’t believe that after so many years of evidence and research that 15 hours is actually working that the Liberals have taken this backward step,” Ms Chesters said.
“The preschool teachers and support staff are very anxious that if funding is discontinued, they will have no choice but to put the costs back on parents, many of whom will be forced to take their children out.
“Ultimately it is the children who will miss out.”
Fifteen hours of preschool a week was endorsed by COAG in 2008 and introduced nationally with federal funding for five of the 15 hours, and the Victorian government contributing funding for the other 10 hours.
The Municipal Association of Victoria said families couldn’t afford to contribute any more to sending their children to kindergarten.
“We share the concerns of raised by Victorian minister for early childhood education Jenny Mikakos on behalf of the 79,000 children who rely on Federal funding to keep kindergarten fees affordable,” MAV president Mary Lalios said.
A spokesperson for federal education minister Simon Birmingham was reported saying there was enough time before June 2020 to iron out policy settings.