Postcard push for preschools

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POSTCARDS from families across Latrobe City will be sent to the Federal Education and Training Minister calling for certainty surrounding preschool funding.

The Coalition has announced a continued investment into the national universal access program, providing $840 million to states and territories over the next two years.

This will guarantee four year-olds have access to at least 15 hours of preschool each week, which Latrobe City mayor Dale Harriman has welcomed.

“However, there are issues surrounding funding of the requirement to implement new teacher-student ratios from 2016,” Cr Harriman said.

Under the National Quality Framework, Victorian early childhood centres will be required to have one qualified educator for every 11 pre-schoolers aged over three.

This is an increase from one staff member for every 15 children and comes into effect on 1 January next year.

“With no guarantee of funding for these changes, council has already been forced to consider a range of future scenarios, none of which is how we want to proceed,” Cr Harriman said.

These include a preschool fee increase of up to 150 per cent; completely ceasing council’s preschool services or reducing other services such as aged care or community development.

Since 2009, an average of 843 children have enrolled at Latrobe City preschools each year.

Fees currently stand at $195 per term, with the proposed fees to reach $225 per term for 2016.

Mr Pyne’s Parliamentary Secretary Scott Ryan, who is responsible for the universal access program, said funding allocation was up to the states and territories.

“Commonwealth support tops up state and territory funding and ensures children have access to preschool education,” Mr Ryan said.

“Staff to child ratio is the responsibility of state and territory governments, and any fee increases due to changes in this ratio should be referred to the Andrews Government.”

Latrobe City general manager of community liveability Sara Rhodes-Ward acknowledged the universal access funding allowed council to continue providing 15 hours of preschool.

“However, there is still a shortfall in funding to cover the costs of implementing the change in staff to child ratios,” Ms Rhodes-Ward said.

“The State Government has not released preschool funding as yet so this is still unknown.”

State Families and Children Minister Jenny Mikakos welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment, but called for continued funding beyond 2017.

The minister’s office was unable to respond to questions about funding the new ratios by the time The Express went to print.