Free kindergarten promise unaffordable for some centres


“On the one hand, they can accept the subsidy and run at a loss. Alternatively, they don’t accept the subsidy, lose enrolments and run at a loss,” she said.


Nasiakos said St Paul’s charged fees above the government’s free kinder amount because it ran longer hours, provided extracurricular activities and had to pay rent and high-quality staff.

Kinders are allowed to fundraise and accept voluntary parent contributions but the Victorian system differs from NSW, which allows community centres to charge fees to cover any shortfall.

Industry body Community Early Learning Australia pushed for the NSW government to allow community kinders to continue to charge fees, but chief executive Michele Carnegie said it was not asked by members to do the same in Victoria.

“This is a lever that we advocated strongly for [in NSW], as services’ primary costs (rent and salaries) can vary depending upon location. As such, there is a need to be able to make up any funding shortfall by charging a fee,” she said.

A NSW Education Department spokeswoman said services “have been able to introduce and charge nominal levies to support service sustainability if required.”

Samantha Page, chief executive of Early Childhood Australia, said the introduction of free kinder would cause some tension.

“Services that run higher child-staff ratios or higher-quality programs will have higher costs … and will get pinched,” she said. “But if you’ve got the majority of services opting in [to free kinder], families have access and choice.”

Long-day childcare centres will receive $2000 per child to run the free kinder program. Parents at those centres also receive a federal government childcare rebate for care outside of kinder hours.

Sessional kinders do not receive a childcare rebate for after- or before-kinder care.


Ingrid Stitt, Victoria’s minister for early childhood and pre-prep, said providers who opted out of free kinder would continue to receive significant government support.

“Any centre [that] employs more experienced staff is already eligible for the early childhood teacher supplement, an additional state government payment that helps pay the wages of experienced staff,” she said. “But any parent accessing our government’s free kinder program will not pay a ‘gap fee’.”

Research from the Mitchell Institute shows that areas with the highest childcare fees generally have the highest availability to childcare places.

“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most, but our research shows these children are the ones most likely to live in an area with a shortage of childcare places,” the institute reported.

The Victorian government on Wednesday cited a report by consultant Deloitte that found free kinder would increase Victoria’s workforce by up to 24,800 full-time equivalent jobs.

“Currently, lack of access to childcare takes almost 26,600 women entirely out of the workforce in Victoria and costs our economy $1.5 billion per year in lost earnings alone,” it said.

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