In one of the highest-profile announcements the Liberals made prior to publishing their 2018 budget on Wednesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne declared her government’s intention to implement a $2.2 billion child-care plan that would include such benefits as fully funded daycare for preschool-aged children and increased child-care subsidies for middle- and lower-income families with infants.
Policy experts in early childhood education have long argued that affordable and universal child care not only boosts economies, but also represents a necessary step toward achieving gender equality. That was a running theme of the 1970 Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and it was a central recommendation of the federal government’s Task Force on Child Care in 1986.
If implemented, the province’s child-care investment plan would make Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to offer preschool child care free of charge; it would also expand access to more families via increased subsidies for parents with infants and toddlers.
Here are four key takeaways from the child-care file in this year’s provincial budget:
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Fully funded daycare for preschoolers
One of the most significant items in the entire 2018 budget — titled “A Plan for Care and Opportunity” — is a proposal to fully fund licensed daycare for children two and a half to four years of age. More than $930 million of the $2.2 billion the government has earmarked for child care would go toward paying for this initiative in the 2020/21 fiscal year, when the program is slated to begin. The budget document estimates that this investment would save the average Ontario family $17,000 per child during the pre-kindergarten period. For Toronto families, that figure is closer to $20,000.
That $930 million will fund a little more than a quarter of the 406,000 children currently in licensed care in Ontario — but the proposal has faced some early criticism. Officials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees have raised concerns about public money being used to pay for spaces at private child-care centres. According to the budget, any licensed child-care facility — private or not — would be eligible for government funding, while unlicensed facilities will be disqualified.
Doubling the number of on-reserve child-care spaces
A child-care-related aspect of the budget that Wynne did not discuss in her announcement on Tuesday is new money earmarked for programs and facilities on First Nations reserves. New operations funding — $40 million in all — will go toward on-reserve child-care programs; over six years, starting in 2019, another $290 million will go toward capital investments. The budget document estimates that the capital-investment fund will double the number of child-care spaces currently available on First Nations reserves — from 4,500 to approximately 9,000.
It’s not yet clear how the expenditure of this money would be governed, or by whom. “The government will work closely with First Nation organization and communities to understand their local needs and develop expansion plans for child care on-reserve,” the budget states.
More subsidized spaces for middle- and low-income families
When, in 2016, the government announced its plan to increase the number of licensed daycare spots in schools by 100,000, some child-care-policy experts were concerned that the plan didn’t guarantee an increase in subsidies to fees that Ontario parents pay — which are currently the highest in Canada. At the time, about 40 per cent of child-care spaces in the province were subsidized in some way. It’s expected that by the 2018/19 fiscal year, that figure will increase to 60 per cent of all newly created spaces — meaning 111,000 children in Ontario will be receiving some form of care subsidy.
New supports for early childhood education
Nearly a quarter of early childhood education workers in Ontario earn less than $15 an hour — just barely above the province’s minimum wage. Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care has previously described the labour situation in early childhood education as a crisis: “Child-care centres will tell you that recruiting and retaining qualified educators is a growing challenge,” she wrote in an op-ed in the Toronto Star last year. “Educators will tell you their struggles to pay the rent, or how they can’t afford to start their own family.”
The 2018 budget aims to address the wage issue for early childhood education workers with a new fee schedule, which will be implemented in April 2020 and grow gradually over the following two years. The schedule will encompass supervisors and staff working in licensed child-care centres or home-care agencies, EarlyON facilities, and family centres. Over the next two years, the government would also put an additional $30 million toward an innovation fund for the non-profit child-care sector.
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