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Permanent kindergarten funding needed

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The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has serious concerns about the future access and quality of four-year old kindergarten facing Victorian families amid renewed calls for the Turnbull Government to continue its share of early childhood education funding.

Cr Mary Lalios, MAV President said permanent funding for kindergarten was needed alongside a national quality assessment system to ensure children received a high quality, stable early start to their education.

“It is extremely disappointing to see recent reports that the Turnbull Government intends to make a $440 million ‘saving’ by ‘concluding’ its National Partnership Agreement in 2020.

“We share the concerns 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.

“Victorian families cannot contribute any more funding to send their children to kindergarten. If Federal funding is not made permanent, fee increases will price many families out of accessing preschool.

“The recent Lifting Our Game national report – endorsed by all states and territories - highlighted the need for stable funding and a quality education base for our youngest children, backed with national oversight and investment,” she said.

Fifteen hours of preschool per week was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (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. Victorian communities also contribute around 35 per cent of the total cost of preschool through fees, fundraising and local government support.

Councils have voluntarily invested around $780 million of ratepayer funds over the past decade to deliver 15 hours of kindergarten from purpose-built council facilities. More than 80 per cent of Victoria’s 1,320 community-based kindergartens currently operate from council-owned buildings.

The Turnbull Government’s May Federal Budget confirmed it had not committed funding beyond December 2019 for the five hours of kinder each week, and had withdrawn from the National Quality Agenda partnership overseeing regulation and quality assessment of early childhood education and care services.

Cr Lalios said irrefutable international and national evidence linked preschool attendance to improved education, health, social and economic outcomes that can break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

“For every $1 invested by governments in early childhood education, there is a $2 to $4 return through higher wages, more tax revenue, and reduced school and criminal justice spending.

National Partnership Agreements have existed between Federal and state government for nearly 10 yearsto bind the system together for the benefit of 1.3 million children and 900,000 families nationally.

“Yet with Australia still languishing as one of the poorest performing OECD nations in terms of our investment in early childhood education, now is the time to invest more – not walk away.

“We urge the Australian Government to have meaningful conversations with state and local government about establishing permanent early childhood education funding to spare parents potentially unaffordable increases in kindergarten fees or additional childcare costs,” she said.

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Contact Cr Mary Lalios on 0447 189 409 or MAV Communications on 9667 5521.