WIMMERA families are still unsure of the fate of kindergartens following Tuesday’s Federal Budget.
The budget did not indicate whether the Federal Government would 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 funds the remaining five hours.
The agreement will expire in December.
Early Learning Association Australia chief executive Shane Lucas said the budget was silent on the future of 15 hours of kindergarten.
“The budget contained a contingency to extend the funding under the national partnership until the end of 2015 – effectively rolling the funding over for 12 months – but this funding is not certain and remains subject to negotiations with the states and territories,” he said.
“Beyond 2015, the budget simply states that the partnership is under review.
“We remain extremely concerned that the review is just political code for cutting this critical funding to support early childhood education.”
West Wimmera Shire Council expects the lack of Federal Government support will cause a $58,000 funding shortfall.
Corporate and community services manager Venkat Peteti said council had implemented 15 hours access in the shire’s three kindergartens.
“We extended hours at Kaniva and Edenhope last year and Goroke this year,” he said.
“We were punching above our weight to be able to do that.
“If the review leads to cutting five hours, it will have a major impact.
“Small councils don’t have too many opportunities to extend rates and the income we receive from rates barely keeps us going as it is.
“We would really struggle without the funding.”
Cr Annette Jones said she was outraged that the Federal Government might cut funding.
“We were expected to have 15 hours a week available, but if we have to pick up the funding difference it would be like the government penalising us,” she said.
Council will work with the Municipal Association of Victoria to advocate for federal funding.
Horsham and District Kindergarten Association early years manager Shirleen Greening 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.”