Monday, March 21, 2011

Outsourcing or just being flexible?

The Toronto Star ran an op-ed piece today from U of T chair of early child development and education Jennifer Jenkins and Atkinson Foundation executive director Olivia Nuamah on the regulation change that would extend the current rules on who runs before- and after-school care from temporary to permanent. The piece says this change would come as a result of imminently pending legislation, but I can't find a bill on the books about this that's been introduced since Bill 242. That bill allows boards to run the extended-day program, but the fine details on how are covered in regulations-- one on the program itself and one specifically for extended-day programs. So, despite Premier Dalton McGuinty's December statements the program would change to allow boards to continue offering the extended-day program through third-party providers, I don't see a bill or regulation online that extends the provisions already in place for the first two years of implementation. I'd love for someone to point me in the right direction, since I've read the standing orders and committee schedules for the week and don't see anything there either.
Regardless, the authors of the op-ed are scaremongering.
Originally, the government had appeared to accept the idea that extended-day programming should be part of the education system. By opening up a part of the system to third-party providers, however, it has raised the spectre of cheaply run services delivered by low-paid workers incapable of ensuring either quality learning or child care.
This approach would fail to maximize the anticipated benefits of an integrated system and simply recreate the kind of fragmentation we are trying to leave behind.
Instead, the ministry should mandate that all services be public, that a system for managing consistency and quality be established, and that schools be available for holiday programs, reinforcing the year-round component of the original report.
Let's do a very quick reality check to temper some of the authors' concerns.
How many for-profit childcare operators are there in Ontario?
Huzzah to the boards singled out in the piece, but how many of those boards (and others) have existing arrangements with childcare agencies to run programs in their schools?
How many boards run their own before- and after-school programs?
Before the welcome introduction of full-day kindergarten, how many boards even employed early childhood educators for childcare services?
If I were to guess, since I don't know all the answers to these questions concretely, I'd say: Few if any, virtually all, a minority and almost none.
Ontario's childcare and children's services agencies are already in our schools. They're already licensed by the provincial government -- usually under the Day Nurseries Act. The education ministry has been consistent in saying the extended-day kindergarten program has to follow the provincial curriculum regardless of who runs it-- a bigger requirement than existing childcare curriculum, which is not regulated. The YMCA (full disclosure, I've worked part-time at Ys for over 10 years), a registered non-profit, is the province's largest childcare operator-- and its Ontario associations are already in many schools. It's followed, I would suspect, as a collective group, by municipally run childcare services, and then by other community based non-profits or not-for-profits.
I highly doubt this is the case of some greedy, for-profit devil waiting behind the door to pounce on a money making opportunity in extended-day kindergarten programs. If there were piles of money to be made in this sector the private sector would already be all over it and it's not. Certainly the boards and children's services agencies already active in the sector would tell anyone this is at best a revenue-neutral sector, even with the comparatively poorer wages and benefits paid to non-school board ECEs.
If a board already has a partnership with a children's agency to run an extended-day program in its school buildings, why couldn't that agency continue to run its programs for six-to-13-year-olds and the related and provincial-curriculum compliant kindergarten program? At the same time, if a board finds a suitable agency in the area that can take on these programs with its own resources rather than bringing in more board-rate ECEs and bureaucracy, why shouldn't they be allowed to do so? I haven't even gotten into fees, which boards are not eager to get involved in and existing children's services agencies are already accustomed to working out with the different municipalities through which childcare subsidies flow. The key, and there's nothing to suggest this won't happen, is to keep the boards in control of what happens in their schools (as they are today) and the programs compliant with the overall ministry curriculum.
The only less-than-positive thing I see here is that the extended-day staff members don't have a routine and regular presence in the classroom, as they would if they were board employees with one staffing the before-school hours and the other the after-school hours. That's minor when compared to looking at the bigger picture of implementing this program in a full-day format.


Anonymous said...

ER - you could check with the Peel board. They were the first board in the province to run extended programs - before and after school and at lunch as well. There program was mirrored by other boards in the province.

They could provide you with what pre-requisites they required (require) for individuals who are interested working with them in that program.

I recall that all hired needed to complete their own regulated course that was compliant and overlapped several provincial requirements.

It was and remains a highly successful program. I have no idea how the new ELP will have affected how the program is run now but
connecting with them is worth a shot.

I worked for this program when it was just taking off. Things may have changed.


Education Reporter said...

Jim Grieve, who was dir of ed at Peel, was tapped by the ministry to be the deputy minister in charge of FDK. So I would assume the policy coming from the ministry benefits from the Peel experience.

That said, I believe -- and please correct if not -- that Peel is one of the boards telling the ministry it can't fully implement FDK if the $$ doesn't match costs.