Free, all-day kindergarten for three, four, and five-year-olds would cost British Columbia $615 million a year in operating funds, according to an April 2009 report by the province’s Early Childhood Learning Agency.
Despite its release just before the May 12 provincial election, no political party’s platform made use of the ECLA’s detailed plan for what is essentially childcare. Included in the report, Expanded Early Learning in British Columbia for Children Age Three to Five, are the results from a year’s worth of consultations with parents, childcare providers, and other stakeholders.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Vancouver-Fairview NDP candidate Jenn McGinn said the party plans to consult with stakeholders before going ahead with a detailed childcare plan. However, in the NDP’s platform, the party promises to go forward with all-day kindergarten for five-year-olds, “as finances permit”.
Currently in B.C., all-day kindergarten is only available for some four- and five-year-olds: those who have special needs, are aboriginal, or speak English as a second language. However, universal full-day programs are already available in Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, according to the report.
Both the B.C. Green party and the NDP have been critical of the Liberal’s “StrongStart B.C.” centres—400 “free, play-based early learning programs for preschool-age children attending with their parents or caregivers” (190 are so-far operational)—neither party plans to cancel the initiative. According to LearnNow B.C., establishing the 400 StrongStart centres is projected to cost $43 million.
The B.C. Liberal party platform didn’t include any specific plans for all-day kindergarten or for the future of StrongStart B.C. The Liberals did not return the Straight’s calls on childcare by deadline.
The ECLA report noted that, “A growing body of research shows that quality early learning programs can have a range of benefits for children. These include improvements in reading, writing, math, creativity, social development, work habits, motor skills, and performance on standardized tests. In the long term, they have also been found to reduce costs in other social policy areas.”
For more on childcare and the May 12 election, look for the May 7 edition of the Straight or check out Straight.com.