The true challenge with N.L.'s pre-kindergarten plan

Saltwire, June 29, 2022

Excerpt: "Last year’s $30 billion federal investment in child care is the largest public outlay in social policy since Medicare. In accepting its share of the funding, Newfoundland has to get early learning right. It is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

That’s why the recent announcement that the province has contracted the YMCA to manage the pre-kindergarten program is much more than an announcement — it is a challenge to both parties to lay the foundation of a program that has lasting impact.

Under the agreement, the YMCA commits to begin opening pre-kindergarten spaces in the fall of 2022. Enrolment is available to 600 children but at a cost of $15 per day to families ($10 in 2023). The federal investment precludes expansion of pre-kindergarten within K-12 education.

While this limitation influences where we start with learning programs for four-year-olds, it cannot be where we end up. For example, Nova Scotia is using federal funding to expand its existing pre-kindergarten system in a program that is managed by the education ministry and the educators are public employees, with commensurate benefits. No fees are charged to families. The latter point is critical. Made-in-Canada experience has demonstrated that even a modest charge prevents the most vulnerable families from enrolling their children, penalizing those who could most benefit.

Instead of building universal pre-kindergarten, N.L. is creating more four-year-old child care. This can be a beginning but it cannot be the end game. In the 2017 Premier’s Task Force on Education, the province committed to follow the lead of other provinces in implementing a universal two-year kindergarten program, beginning at four years of age. Research informs that model with a convincing argument that tying junior kindergarten to the K-12 system reaps the best outcomes."

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