After-school programs should be non-profit, critics say

TheStar.com – news/Ontario/parentcentral.ca/parent/education
April 8, 2011.   Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

Queen’s Park is opening the door to the privatization of the public school system by allowing for-profit businesses to run before- and after-school programs for students in all-day kindergarten, critics warn.

As promised by the McGuinty Liberals last December, amendments to the Education Act will allow school boards to contract out extended-day programs for all-day kindergarten. But nothing in the amendments tabled this week precludes school boards from contracting for-profit businesses to provide the service.

“Allowing privatized, for-profit operators into a publicly mandated system seems ill-considered, at best,” said Olivia Nuamah, executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, which promotes a seamless, full day of learning for 4- and 5-year-olds delivered by school boards.

“The public delivery of extended-day programming was regarded as an essential guarantor of quality,” she said.

“Giving school boards the option of using third-party operators raises the spectre of cheaply run services delivered by low-paid workers resulting in neither quality learning nor child care,” she said. “It also recreates the kind of fragmentation we are trying to leave behind.”

A spokesperson for Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said the amendments respond to the wishes of parents and school boards.

“Parents and schools have told us that they are happy with the before- and after-school care their children receive through third-party providers,” said Mike Feenstra.

“Our government remains committed to ensuring parents have access to affordable, high-quality and on-site before- and after-school care for their children,” he said.

Queen’s Park had originally mandated school boards to provide the service by 2012 in schools where at least 15 families request it.

But the government backed down last December after a massive lobbying effort from daycares, which feared losing business, and from school boards, which didn’t want the complications of implementing and operating the programs.

Since only a handful of boards have commercial daycares operating in their schools, legislation banning for-profit programs could have accommodated them through “grandfathering” or conversion to non-profit status, said Zeenat Janmohamed of the University of Toronto’s Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development.

“The province is being completely remiss in not showing any leadership on this,” she said.

In Toronto, only non-profit daycares are permitted to operate in public and Catholic schools.

Catherine Fife of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said it would be “helpful” if the legislation favoured not-for-profit delivery of before- and after-school care.

“I think the optics of commercial operators moving into schools and making profits by delivering extended-day programs is not helpful to the overall goals of the program,” she said.

“School boards are very aware there are large commercial child-care operators trading on the stock market in Canada,” she added. “The experience in Australia with these types of operators making profits off public programs is very much on our radar.”

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