Sunday, December 4, 2011

Babysit me!

With apologies to Arrested Development, who I stole that title from. It's a flippantly provocative choice, given what's been flying around and being thrown around in at least two areas of the province when it comes to the programs that wraparound the core portion of Ontario's full-day kindergarten program. I don't think FDK is babysitting, for the record.
One model, reported on by the Ottawa Citizen, shows school boards partnering with existing third-party childcare providers and children's agencies who're already present in schools offering before- and after-school programs.
Compare that to the battle underway in Waterloo Region, where the district school boards have decided they will operate all wraparound programs for full-day kindergarten. This is the model that was set when the province first released the details about FDK, as well as the one written into Bill 242. The subsequent regulations gave a multi-year reprieve, then Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a permanent extension of that reprieve around this time last year, providing everyone follows the provincially set FDK curriculum.
I received an interesting email from a lawyer in that region, parts of which are quoted here:
There is an 'uprising' of parents in this community that do not agree with the way in which this school Board is executing its plan for the extend day program. There is a petition of 408 parents calling for a change in their plan. The petition website is at There is currently a Notion of Motion served to the Board, which is signed by two Trustees. WRDSB requires the signatures of three in order to get the Motion on the table. Not a single trustee will come forward to put this Motion to debate and discuss why it is they think the parents of their community do not deserve consultation on this matter. They don't feel 408 parents, a countless number of children/students, and the stakeholder are worthy of that discussion. According to the Education Act, Section 218.1(e) they each have a duty to “uphold the implementation of any board resolution after it is passed by the board”. But, by their own admission this decision was a 'management decision' (, and there is no resolution in place concerning the use of the third-party operators. And in the absence of a resolution in this matter, their duties must be such as outlined in section 218.1(d) that is to “bring concerns of parents, students and supporters of the board to the attention of the board”. Currently, they are not fulfilling this duty which is a requirement under the laws of this province. And they clearly appear to have no attention to ever performing this duty on this matter. 
The Record's education reporter Luisa D'Amato wrote about the issue behind the petition recently.
I'm puzzled by the Waterloo Region stuff-- though the boards are exercising their right under Bill 242 to implement wraparound programs for kindergarten-aged students where the demand exists. The last two words there are key-- the boards are only forced to setup these programs, either themselves or in partnerships, if there is enough demand from the parents of kindergarten students to do so.
No demand, no requirement to put these wraparound programs in place.
The programs are also funded by the parents -- which can be a key issue for parents since board early childhood educators on union contracts make a higher wage than their counterparts working in the private non-profit sector. Yet, having third-parties on board moves away from the original FDK program design, that was supposed to be a seamless day from before-school, through school, to after-school programming with three adults-- a classroom teacher and two ECEs.
For boards that are willing (and able, considering contracts with their own employees) to allow non-board ECEs into the classroom, this could still be the scenario envisioned by the program's designers.
That said, allowing existing children's agencies to continue working with kindergarten students at a lower cost isn't going to render the program moot either. I've said since the first announcements of the program that the children's agency / childcare sector was going to have to adjust their revenue models since FDK was going to eliminate their best source of funding-- kindergarten students needing care during school hours when they weren't in class. Given the five-year phase in, that's plenty of time for adjustment-- although as the take up on FDK continues we can't expect every childcare program to continue at its current level. Part of me wonders whether the argument in Waterloo isn't partially underwritten by this. The concern in the sector is palpable-- see this St. Catharines article as an example.
Charles Pascal did say, on several occasions, that implementing FDK would be messy and that mistakes would be made throughout the rollout. Once these wraparound programs are in place, let's see how they change into their second and third years based on that line of thinking.