This is because the government has stipulated that kindergartens that charge annual fees of more than $2122 per child cannot charge parents a gap fee to cover the difference.
“Where a sessional kindergarten service charges a fee above the free kinder amount, they will be required to provide a free 15-hour kindergarten program and not charge families any compulsory out-of-pocket fees, including enrolment deposits or maintenance levies,” the department has advised providers.
Renown, a not-for-profit kindergarten in South Yarra that was due to mark its 100th anniversary this year before COVID-19 scuppered its celebrations, faces an estimated loss of between $157,000 and $300,000 next year if it joins the scheme, president Ali McArthur said.
Renown’s longest four-year old kinder program has annual fees of $5160. It is more expensive than average kindergartens because it includes 19½ hours of kinder classes a week, as well as lessons in music and sport taught by specialist teachers.
Ms McArthur said the higher fees also helped the kinder attract more highly qualified educators.
“This funding package has placed sessional community not-for-profit kindergartens like Renown in a lose/lose situation,” Ms McArthur said.
She said many parents who send their children to Renown justifiably expected to get it for free next year, given the government’s funding announcement.
But she said the facility would need to cut back on staffing, eroding the quality of education provided, or absorb a huge financial hit to meet their expectations.
“Although the sentiment behind free kinder funding is very positive, the policy itself is ill-conceived and discriminatory against kindergartens that charge above $2122 per annum,” Ms McArthur said.
Kate Hely is president of Brookville Kindergarten, a community kindergarten in Toorak. She said the not-for-profit kinder would lose about $250,000 next year if it joined the scheme.
“For us, losing $250k means we can’t really say yes to that from a financial point of view, but the problem with that is it means all of the families in our community who have been hit hard by COVID, who are really struggling, are then unable to take that $2000 per child to help them recover as well,” Ms Hely said.
Renown and Brookville are both in the state seat of Prahran.
Steve Manos sent his five-year-old son, Ares, to Brookville this year and said it was a good local kinder, well connected to the community.
Greens MP for Prahran Sam Hibbins said not-for-profit kindergartens in his electorate were being put in an unfair position.
“Victoria’s ‘free kinder’ plan shouldn’t mean quality, not-for-profit kinders face the unenviable choice of either losing hundreds of thousands of dollars or losing enrolments,” Mr Hibbins said.
“The state government needs to fix this to make sure all kinders and families can benefit from the scheme.”
Kindergartens do not have to sign up to the free kinder initiative. Those who face a funding shortfall if they do have been told they can ask parents for a voluntary donation to cover the shortfall, in lieu of a gap fee.
A spokesperson for the Andrews government said that while services have a choice about participating in the scheme, families will be keen for them to do so.
“The vast majority of sessional kindergarten services charge less than $2122 and will financially benefit from the initiative, as well as being able to provide their local families with a free 15-hour program,” the spokesman said.
“The intention of this initiative is to get as many children into a free kinder program, saving families money and helping parents, particularly women, get back into the workforce.”
Start your day informed
Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.