WIMMERA kindergartens could be forced to reduce hours or increase fees to remain viable.
Children and Early Childhood Development Minister Wendy Lovell has urged the Federal Government to uphold the national partnership agreement on early childhood education, which aims to give children access to kindergarten for at least 15 hours a week.
As part of the agreement, the State Government provides funding towards 10 hours a week and the Federal Government provides funding towards the remaining five hours.
Ms Lovell said the agreement would expire in December and the Federal Government had not yet made any further commitments towards its five hours of kindergarten funding past this date.
She said without federal funding, kinder hours could fall to 10 a week.
In 2012, all Victorian kindergartens were required to offer 15 kinder hours – up from 10 hours.
Horsham and District Kindergarten Association early years manager Shirleen Greening said the funding uncertainty was a shock.
She said if funded hours were cut back to 10, kindergartens would no longer be viable.
“It took a considerable amount of negotiation and reorganisation to implement the 15 hours,” she said.
“Now we have been advised the ongoing funding might not be available, which would be a huge backwards step.
“We were told in 2012 there was research to back up the validity of 15 hours of kinder and if that research still stands it is difficult to understand why this is happening.”
Mrs Greening said the association constructed new buildings and employed new staff when hours increased.
She said if the association maintained 15 hours of kinder without funding, it would be a financial burden on families.
If hours were cut to 10, some staff could have their hours cut.
The association will write to both the state and federal governments about its concerns.
Hindmarsh chief executive Tony Doyle said small kindergartens would only have a choice between increasing kindergarten fees to an unaffordable level or reducing hours to remain viable.
“It would reverse all that has been achieved by increasing kindergarten programs to 15 hours,” he said.
“After the efforts put in by local and state governments, service providers such as Wimmera Uniting Care, kinder teachers and parents to implement 15 hours of kindergarten programs, it would be incredibly disappointing to see hours reduced and the achievements lost.”
Yarriambiack community services manager Gavin Blinman said cuts would most affect families in smaller communities such as Hopetoun, Woomelang and Beulah.
“Lots of families travel to bigger communities to access the extra hours,” he said.
“If the 15 hours of kindergarten stops, it won’t be worth these families travelling that far.”
Cr Kylie Zanker described the cuts as ludicrous.
Northern Grampians community and economic director Jim Nolan said council was concerned it would be expected to cover the funding gap.
“While the benefits of the additional hours of kindergarten are not easily measured, it is likely that there would be some children, and in particular children from vulnerable families, who would benefit significantly,” he said.
“However, affordability is a factor.”
He said the state or federal governments or the community might expect councils to fund the remaining hours.
West Wimmera chief executive Mark Crouch said funding cuts would place additional pressure on parents, particularly in relation to early years literacy and development.
The Federal Government will decide its future funding arrangements after it reviews the agreement in June.