Part of the funding package will also go towards extra cleaning for kindergartens.
David Worland, chief executive of the Early Learning Association Australia, said kindergartens were still feeling the strain of reduced income, with attendance roughly 80 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 levels. Attendance fell to as little as 5 to 10 per cent at the peak of the pandemic, he said.
He warned that a second wave of the virus or any deepening of the economic recession could put some early-learning centres at risk of closure.
“The sector is certainly strained, whether you’re a long-day-care provider or a sessional kindergarten provider,” Mr Worland said. “Certainly the measures at a state level take some of the risk out of it for families and providers, but does it take all of the risk out? Unfortunately, no.”
Education Minister James Merlino said the funding would provide $230 per child for term three, which is expected to save parents about half the cost of average kindergarten fees. This would mean that on average families would pay $23 a week for sessional kindergarten in term three, he said.
“We’re saving families hundreds of dollars and ensuring Victorian children can go to kinder and receive the crucial early childhood education they deserve,” Mr Merlino said.
The reduced-fee program will be extended to community-based, local government and school providers that are offering funded sessional programs but are not covered by the Morrison government’s $70 million JobKeeper program.
The kindergarten subsidy program is distinct from the Commonwealth’s $1.6 billion childcare support package, which is due to end on July 12.
The Morrison government made childcare free for all children in April, with the aim of keeping early-learning centres afloat as attendances plummeted amid the pandemic.
Julie Price, executive director of the Community Child Care Association, said there were many families who did not have a healthcare card but were suffering significant financial stress due to losing work or business from COVID-19. They would benefit from the extension of the program.
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“This is making sure that children are still accessing those good-quality education experiences in the year before they start school,” Ms Price said.
The funding will also go towards cleaning and hygiene grants of $900 for kindergartens with fewer than 50 enrolments and $1500 for those with 50 or more.
There have been a handful of positive coronavirus cases among teachers and children at childcare centres in the past week, in suburbs including Essendon, South Yarra, Pakenham and Reservoir.
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.