Ontario makes kindergarten plan official

TheGlobeandMail.com – News/National – Ontario makes kindergarten plan official: All four and five year olds will be entitled to full days by 2015 despite an unprecedented deficit
Published on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009.  Toronto — Canadian Press

Ontario will move ahead with full-day kindergarten for all four and five year olds despite an unprecedented deficit, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

The program will cost $1.5 billion a year once it’s fully implemented by 2015, about $500 million more than originally thought. Investing in children is an essential step in making the province competitive on the global stage, Mr. McGuinty said.

“Parents everywhere are the same. All we want is for our children to grow up and be the very best that they might be, to achieve their greatest potential,” he said.

“In a highly competitive, global knowledge-based economy it’s absolutely essential that we invest in the younger generation to ensure that we build a powerful work force that can compete and win against the best anywhere on this planet.”

Mr. McGuinty and his finance minister are projecting a $24.7-billion deficit for this fiscal year. The decision to move ahead with the long-promised kindergarten program has drawn fire from the Opposition Tories who say the province can’t afford it.

Under the plan, teachers and early educators will work together in the classroom. But parents will have to pay for their child to stay extended hours, which will be led by early childhood educators. About 35,000 children will be offered the program next September, about 16 per cent of eligible kids that are currently enrolled.

Provincial officials say the schools that will offer the program will be announced early in the new year. The 2015 date for full implementation puts the province behind British Columbia, which plans to offer full-day kindergarten to all of its five-year-olds by 2011.

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec offer all-day kindergarten for five-year-olds. Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec offer some programs for four-year-olds.

Ontario has part-day kindergarten for four-year-olds, but school is not mandatory until Grade 1.

Charles Pascal, the government’s early learning adviser, had estimated that the fully implemented early learning program could cost about $1 billion. His June report recommended sweeping changes that include expanding paid parental leave to 400 days, and combining daycare and kindergarten into a single full-day program from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., to make life easier for parents and their children.

It also said that children who have attended full-day programs before Grade 1 fare better academically and have better social skills.

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