Constituency Question: Support for Kinders
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): My constituency question is for the Minister for Early Childhood. Can the minister outline what actions the government will take to support quality not-for-profit kinders in the Prahran electorate that are facing significant financial shortfalls if they participate in the government’s free kinder scheme? The government’s free kinder scheme, whilst welcome in its intent, unfortunately by its design has placed local quality not-for-profit kinders in an unenviable position of either losing hundreds of thousands of dollars if they do sign up to the scheme or losing enrolments from families who expected free kinder if they do not. For families that will mean either a loss of quality at a community kinder that exceeds the quality standards or being unable to benefit from free kinder despite the financial hit that so many families have faced due to COVID. The department has informed the sector that they estimate 9 per cent of service providers will be negatively impacted, so I urge the government to fix this to make sure that all kinders and families can benefit from the scheme. Our quality community kinders are so important.
The Free Kinder initiative is supporting workforce participation during the recovery phase from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, especially for women, and maximising kindergarten participation by removing cost as a barrier.
The per child funding level for sessional services has been set at a rate that covers the fees charged by the vast majority of community-based sessional kindergarten services operated by local governments, Early Years Managers and parent committees. Typical sessional kindergarten fees in Victoria are between $1,700 and $2,000.
This additional funding will be paid on top of all usual funding streams and the initiative is not compulsory. All kindergarten services may choose to opt-in or opt-out after consideration of their individual circumstances.
The Andrews Labor Government’s intention is that as many families as possible can access a free program, hence the requirement for sessional services not to charge any compulsory fees for a funded 15 hour program. These services may charge for hours over and above the 15 per week.
I am pleased to report that as at April 2021, close to 98 per cent of funded kindergarten services across Victoria have opted into the initiative. This includes the majority of services in the City of Stonnington and surrounds.
While most sessional services will receive more revenue in 2021 in Free Kinder funding, compared to their normal parent fees, I am aware of the concerns raised by a small number of sessional kindergarten providers that charge fees well above $2,122.
The Department of Education and Training will continue to work with any service that has concerns on a case-by-case basis to determine the best outcomes for the service and their community. I am advised that the Department has already been working with services from the local government areas that make up the Prahran electorate to work through their individual concerns.
Ingrid Stitt MP
Minister for Workplace Safety
Minister for Early Childhood