Monday, February 22, 2010

ELP concerns a plenty

A couple of things today on the Early Learning Program and some repetition of concerns already heard since the summer regarding how this program is to be implemented and the impact it will have on communities and school boards.
First is an opinion piece in today's Toronto Sun written by Kelly Massaro Joblin and Fred Hahn, presidents of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, respectively. From their piece:
But the removal of four and five year olds from child care centres, combined with a $63.5-million loss in federal funding, has rocked the child care sector.
The City of Toronto estimates shrinking resources for child care will mean de-funding 5,000 spaces.
Another 3,000 spaces will disappear from other regions.
Feeling the financial heat, Windsor City Council just voted to shut down nine municipal child care centres. The city will get rid of all the buildings and assets that have been the foundation of Windsor’s child care services for decades.
What is so regrettable about this decision is how it runs completely counter to the early learning reform report the premier commissioned from Charles Pascal.
Pascal’s blueprint charges municipalities with leading the way in caring for children from infancy up to four years of age as the next step in the early learning initiative.
This opinion piece simplifies the challenge faced by Windsor to the extreme-- council made a difficult choice faced with sustaining a service that wasn't providing the greatest value to the community and was being operated at a steep loss.
This piece speaks more to concerns about private, for-profit childcare gaining a toehold in Ontario than it speaks with any authority on the ELP. There are municipalities out there (I live in one) who don't operate any childcare services-- they simply manage the fee subsidy element and assign who gets what spaces. Having said that, my experience here shows the sector dominated by private, not-for-profits. Let's remember the largest operator of childcare in Canada is the YMCA. (Full disclosure: I work part-time for the Woodstock YMCA as an aquatic and youth program staff).
The second piece by Nathan Taylor at the Orillia Packet & Times touches on further concerns, but from the Simcoe District and Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District school boards' worry it will end up raiding Peter to pay Paul within its 2010-11 budget.
"We can't afford to start subsidizing daycare for before and after school. We can't do it at the expense of our programming," said Jodi Lloyd, trustee for Ramara, Severn and Tay townships. "It's a wonderful service. However, it needs to be on a 100% cost-recovery basis."
The concern from staff is that 100% cost recovery might not be achievable while, at the same time, charging a reasonable fee.
If the fee is higher than other daycare options in the community, "their likelihood is to leave the school and not take part in the extended-day program, and that kind of defeats the purpose of the extended-day program," associate director Carol McAulay said, noting the point is to maintain continuity for the children.
I think the pending release of the Grants for Student Needs will be telling.
My prediction? You're going to see some reinvestment of the clawed-back Primary Class Size capital grants to support the much-smaller cohort of year-two ELP sites. You're also going to see some strong messages that boards need to get their vacant spaces under control through tightening of the declining enrolment adjustment grants. Trustees will be forced to cut their costs in relation to the decline in their enrolment in order to support ELP costs. It only makes sense-- you're supposed to be losing costs relating to the overall drop in students, so reinvest those "savings" from elsewhere in your budget into the ELP. The days of ever-increasing funding into education when there are drops in enrolment that lie between 2-5% are over-- funding is much more likely to remain stable, with heavy mandate to reinvest costs that are supposed to be dropping with enrolment into ELP.
I also foresee this a a big year where special education costs will face off over ELP and other programs. Boards will have some tricky work ahead of them to balance their budgets for 2010-11, but the word from the ministry will likely still be that it's possible if trustees are ready to tackle some difficult decisions they've been putting off since the Liberals entered government.
I could be wrong-- but would be slightly freaked out if I was right on this call.


Anonymous said...

All it says to me ER is that the gov't really didn't think this through and filled in the blanks in a way that suited the teacher unions but spelled hardship for most boards.

I'm going to be really surprised if we see any more phasing of this happen as boards realize just what kind of a bind has been negotiated on their behalf.

I really like how all accounting for this has nicely shifted from the MOE to trustees who will have not only to make tough decisions but do so knowing that they've pretty much been left holding the bag. I'm all for trustees being able to make decisions for their communities but no education system can run for long based on the writing of programs done on the fly to court votes...which is what I truly believe this is.

I'd like to be introduced to the folks at any board in the province that finds savings in this mess which they can freely apply to ELP.

I for one really think that if any savings are found it shouldn't go to prop up a program that's very unpopular in my area at the moment.


RetDir said...

I believe the Ministry has just cottoned on to the fact that cost-recovery means prohibitive fees, especially since in many parts of the province the wages of ECEs in the schools will be significantly higher than the wages of ECEs in the daycares (especially where they are non-union). I understand that there will be a reg introduced to define for boards what cost-recovery means. The real problem for daycares is that 4 and 5 years olds are their profit centres - they use the money they make on these kids to subsidize what would be prohibitively expensive infant and toddler programs.
And getting vacant spaces under control means an avalanche of school closures, which in the year prior to an election may not be something the government wants to encourage, although my sense is that the general public fully understands and supports rationalization of space, just as they did in the 60s. It is interesting to note that the legislative changes do not extend to school boards being allowed to operate daycares for non-school aged children.