Wednesday, February 9, 2011

So a campaign on FDK?

Interesting messaging today as the province announced that many if not all school boards are now accepting junior and senior kindergarten registration for September 2011.
It was a hard/soft sell announcement on the second year of implementation for full-day kindergarten, complete with the requisite ministerial visit to an elementary school. Outside of the formal announcement however, it was a chance for Leona Dombrowsky to start framing a plank in the Liberals' election campaign. From a CTV piece online:
The full-day kindergarten program is shaping up to be a key campaign issue in October's provincial election.
Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky warned the program could suffer setbacks if the Conservatives form the government in October's provincial election.
"Our very distinct worry is that we are looking in phase 3 to have 50 per cent of the junior and senior kindergarten students in Ontario accommodated. I would say that is very much at risk," she said while visiting the Holy Name School in Toronto on Wednesday.
The Conservatives say that if they win the election, they will freeze the rollout and look for other, less expensive options.
As I've said in this space before, I would love to see one of the pending election's squabbles be over alternating visions for the future of education in this province. Not the drive-by disaster that was the faith-based funding issue in 2007, but a deeper look at things like how to implement full-day kindergarten. From my admittedly biased perspective it could be a deeper conversation than hydro bills or (and please may this not take root) buck-a-beer sloganism.
The Liberals are feeling their way through implementation -- exactly as adviser Charles Pascal said they would -- and making changes to the initial plans as they judge it fit to do so. The Tories have said, when the program launched in the fall, that they wouldn't fund the "Cadillac" version of the program they say the Liberals are implementing.
Here's the reality. There are approximately 2,000 publicly funded elementary schools in this province. By October, almost 800 will have full-day kindergarten. Likely later this spring or during the campaign, phase three schools will be announced, which will probably bring the program to around 50% implementation.
There are those who would say full-day kindergarten is a holy grail-- so appreciated by parents whose children are in existing schools that no party would dare dismantle the program. Certainly, no party is saying it would. But to freeze implementation at the 50% mark could be disastrous.
So if we exclude that possibility, that still leaves an opposition vacuum where some sort of alternate vision for implementation should be.
Of course, the underlying question remains whether this issue, or education as a whole, can really dominate a campaign that's for all intents and purposes looking to be centred on our pocketbooks.