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MAV Opinion Editorial - Preschool rite of passage under threat

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As a mother, I ensured my kids got the best access to quality education to set them on a path to a bright future.

Cr Mary Lalios

Kindergarten was an important part of their learning journey – it gifted them invaluable learning skills, social connections, confidence and independence that’s helped them to thrive throughout their schooling years and beyond.

While my kids have now completed their secondary education, I’m worried for the current generation of toddlers about to embark on their education journey. The kindergarten rite of passage that every parent expects for their child is under threat from a lack of Federal funding.

Families across regional Victoria are already feeling the pinch from cost of living pressures. One extra pressure that families cannot afford is increased fees to send their children to kindergarten. Yet concern is growing among Victorian kindergarten services and families that fees may rise dramatically if ongoing Federal funding cannot be secured.

Under our national model, all children are entitled to 15 hours per week of four-year old preschool. Planning for this approach commenced in 2009 and took until 2013 to be introduced nationally.

The model is based on sound international studies that have proven kids who go through preschool are better off than those who don’t. Most other developed nations offer free preschool for 15 to 50 hours per week. Many offer two years of funded preschool, for both three and four year olds.

Both the Federal and State Labor parties have recently committed to fund two years of preschool, which is a great outcome for families. However, the current Coalition Federal government has been backing away from its funding responsibility for 15 hours of four-year old kindergarten.

Federal funding will cease in December 2019. Without it, families face up to $2,000 more per child each year in child education costs. And for parents unable to afford the fees, their kids may miss out on getting the best start with a high-quality and stable education. This is unacceptable.

The facts are simple. Attending kindergarten enables children to be ready for school. It helps them to achieve better results at school. And it makes them more successful in employment or further education in later life. All parents share these goals for our kids. But to raise thriving children, parents need support.

The strength of Victoria’s community-based kindergarten model, also makes it vulnerable.  We have high participation rates, but we rely on a partnership between federal, state and local government to make it work. If one party withdraws, it is families who will lose out.

Our preschool system is jointly funded by the Federal and State governments. The Federal government funds five hours and the Victorian government funds 10 hours, so all children can attend 15 hours of four-year old kinder each week.

Local councils also voluntarily invest significant funds and resources towards kindergarten provision.

Of Victoria’s 1,300 community preschools, over 80 per cent operate from council-owned buildings. Many councils also run central enrolment for kindergartens in their municipality. They also rely on parent support through fees and fundraisers to keep programs running.  Lots of parents I know have completed a stint on a kindergarten committee, including me as Treasurer.

Under this unique partnership model, 96 per cent of Victorian children are attending four-year old preschool each year. That’s 82,000 children who are reaping the lifelong benefits of a quality early childhood education.

Kindergarten must be kept accessible and affordable for all Victorians. Without an ongoing commitment from the Federal Government, families face uncertainty for 2020 and beyond. Will their children be able to attend preschool and will they be hit with higher fees?

We’re part of the I Love Kinder community campaign to remind our Prime Minister to ‘have a heart’ and ensure the April Federal Budget permanently invests in four-year old kinder. We need the Coalition government to put families at ease and renew funding so all children can receive 15 hours of funded preschool each week in the year before they begin school.

Go to www.ilovekinder.org.au to pledge your support with an #ILoveKinder selfie and sign the petition to our Prime Minister.

We owe it to the next generation. They will be our future MPs, doctors, nurses, plumbers, chefs, accountants, teachers and many occupations that we haven’t even dreamt of yet.  Let’s give these kids the best start to be all that they can be.

Cr Mary Lalios
MAV President 

This Opinion Editorial was published on 1 December 2018 in Fairfax regional papers the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail, and Warrnambool Standard.