Thursday, April 28, 2011

More FDK implementation details

Since my return full-day kindergarten has held a few good headlines. The Toronto Star's Kristin Rushowy and the Globe and Mail's Kate Hammer approached space/capacity issues from opposite ends of the spectrum. Rushowy's piece spoke to students in intermediate grades being pushed into high schools to free up classrooms for FDK classes, whereas Hammer dealt with an expected increase in kindergarten-Grade 1 split classes in schools where the number of students don't add up in groups of 26, or simply aren't large enough to form a standalone kindergarten class.
In both cases, the ministry and minister have been giving boards the same consistent message on accommodation issues-- make your own decisions. These sorts of quandaries aren't new-- for example, the Catholic schools in suburban Ottawa went K-6 and 7-13 in the late 1980s after full funding was implemented because many elementary schools didn't have space for the intermediate grades when all the junior high schools became high schools.
They're also rightly in the hands of the district school boards. Bricks-and-mortar answers, even if the questions are largely framed by the province, should be answered locally. School organization -- which has always varied depending on where you live and when you went to school -- is also a very local issue that deserves to remain so.
When the primary class size initiative was being implemented, boards were faced with similar accommodation challenges as they tried to meet the 20:1 cap in 90% of classes without exceeding the average class-size caps for junior and intermediate grades or building expansions they weren't getting the money to fund.
In that case, boards were required to tell the ministry what they needed. For the most part the requests were funded and at the end of full implementation a number of boards had leftover capital dollars for primary class size that they had to return to the ministry or get reallocated under a different capital-program label. So for FDK the ministry appears to be more cautious on how it's allocating capital, and holding back on any announcements until the schools have been announced.
The question of capital has always been around since the FDK program was introduced and it may prove to be its messiest to answer as the program is implemented. The ministry does ask for and receive capital planning information from school boards, with particular attention to FDK in the past two years so that it knows what the request for capital is. Yet it's never been completely transparent on any estimates it might have as to what the total capital budget for full implementation over the five years might be. The Toronto Sun's Moira MacDonald got into this in her most recent column as Minister Leona Dombrowsky answered her question from a previous column in a letter to the editor (it's the first one listed here). The figure quoted is $1.5 billion / year operational budget at full rollout, with $1.5 billion in capital needed to get there. With about half the school sites announced, about a third of the capital has been allocated. The real work remains ahead.