Ontario backtracks on offering one-stop daycare, kindergarten

TheGlobeandMail.com – news/politics/Ontario
Published Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010. Last updated Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010.   Karen Howlett And Kate Hammer, Toronto

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is abandoning his grand ambition to have the province’s school boards deliver a mandatory single program of child care and full-day learning to four- and five-year olds.

A cornerstone of the government’s full-day kindergarten program was that schools were to become one-stop centres for child care and education. Boards were to be solely responsible for all aspects of educating the child, including providing before- and after-school care.

But under proposed legislation the government plans to introduce next year, boards would have the option to allow daycare operators to provide before- and after-school programs.

Mr. McGuinty announced the cancellation of a core component of his signature program on Wednesday. Critics say Ontario’s initial approach of having school educators in charge of delivering a comprehensive program to students inside and outside the classroom was what set it apart from other provinces, including British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec, that already offer or have begun offering full-day kindergarten.

“My disappointment is that we’re not going to move ahead with the vision,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of the parent group People for Education. “The vision was incredibly exciting.”

The architect of the full-day kindergarten program, Charles Pascal, envisioned that children would be able to stay in one place, before and after school and throughout the summer months, and that schools would become hubs of care for families.

Despite vigorous opposition from lobbyists for daycare centres, who faced losing business under the program, and school boards that were reluctant to take on responsibility for providing more care, Mr. McGuinty initially embraced Dr. Pascal’s recommendations.

Mr. McGuinty said he plans to tailor full-day kindergarten to suit the needs of parents by giving boards the option of running before- and after-school programs themselves or using third-party daycare providers.

“We heard from some parents concerns about us taking away their early childhood educator, taking away a program that they already had confidence in,” he told reporters. “We are making amendments as we go to ensure that we get it right.”

Dr. Pascal said on Wednesday that he still believes a seamless day of child care and schooling is the ideal, but that it would be worthwhile to investigate other models. “These things take time to get right,” he said. “Having different expressions of the concept lets us continue doing the research and see if we were right.”

The before- and after-school component of the program has struggled from the start. Following the backlash from daycare providers, legislation was enacted to give them some grace time to hand over the reins to the schools. Meanwhile, up-take on the school board-based programs has been weak because the government was slow to provide a price tag to parents.

These challenges are part of the reason full-day kindergarten in Ontario is being rolled out in phases and won’t be offered in every school across the province until the 2014-15 school year. An initial $200-million was set aside for the first phase this school year, and $300-million for phase two.

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod accused Mr. McGuinty of not listening to parents when he initially launched the all-day kindergarten program. “It’s no surprise that Mr. McGuinty is backtracking,” she told reporters. “It just speaks to how out of touch he really is.”

New Democrat education critic Rosario Marchese said the government has now shrouded the program in uncertainty. By giving parents a choice, Mr. Marchese said, the government is creating a “hodgepodge” of programming across the province.

YMCAs from across Ontario, the province’s largest not-for-profit early learning and child-care provider, said they welcomed the government’s announcement.

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