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Kinder investment welcome but four-year olds still at risk

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The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has cautiously welcomed a proposal from the Victorian Government to deliver an extra funded year of kindergarten for three-year olds, despite Federal funding for four-year old kindergarten programs only promised until the end of 2019.

Cr Mary Lalios, MAV President said while additional investment in Victorian children by a re-elected Andrews Government and Federal Labor was encouraging, four-year old kinder programs remained at risk.

“Australia lags behind many other countries in providing two years of funded preschool for our children. First and foremost we need to prioritise two years of kinder participation for our most vulnerable children.

“National and international research unequivocally demonstrates the benefits of quality early education.

“It improves long-term education, health, social and economic outcomes to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

“Fifteen hours of funded kindergarten for three-year olds is a positive but ambitious plan by State and Federal Labor that would need to be fully-funded by both governments.

“There are two critical questions facing councils and families: how will it be delivered? And will all parties commit permanent Federal funding for four-year olds, which is currently set to end in December next year?

“Ahead of 15 hours of preschool being introduced nationally in 2013 for four-year old children, there was years of planning to get facilities built and upgraded, as well as more teachers recruited and trained.

“Councils invested $780 million for early years’ infrastructure to support the 15-hours reform process and our population boom. This is more than double the amount that state and federal governments have invested since 2010.

“More than 80 per cent of Victoria’s 1,320 kindergarten facilities operate from council-owned buildings.

“Many current buildings could not realistically accommodate an expanded three-year old program. For growth areas this would require a massive capital funding commitment by the State to build new facilities. In land-locked suburbs, there is limited capacity to build new kinders or to extend current facilities.

“The staged approach proposed by the State government is critical to work through these challenges. Careful planning and a strong partnership with local government is required to ensure adequate buildings and a qualified workforce are available.”

Cr Lalios also expressed concern that the proposal for 15 hours of preschool for three-year olds could not proceed without an ongoing Commonwealth funding commitment to the current four-year old program.

“The Federal Budget this year identified a ‘saving’ by concluding its annual $440 million to fund five of the 15 hours each week for children to attend four-year old preschool. The State funds the other 10 hours.

“While we welcome the commitment by Federal Labor, we need a bipartisan commitment to permanent Federal funding for four-year old kinder to continue in 2020 and beyond. Otherwise, parents face unaffordable fee increases or extra childcare costs,” she said.

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