TORONTO—Premier Doug Ford isn't guaranteeing that full-day kindergarten will continue beyond the next school year.
The program was introduced by former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty and was fully rolled out in 2014.
It saves families thousands of dollars a year in child care costs but it costs the government $1.5 billion a year.
Ford's government is conducting education consultations, including the possibility of removing class size caps for kindergarten and primary grades, and the premier was asked yesterday about the future of full-day kindergarten.
“I can tell you that there's going to be all-day kindergarten next year, and we'll sit down and you'll hear from us in the future,” he replied.
“I can assure you one thing—any decision that's made is going to be better, it's not going to be worse,” Ford pledged.
“As far as I'm concerned, there's a lot of areas of education that are broken that need to be fixed.”
Ford said he just wants what is best for students but a government document frames the current consultation as one that is required given “the province's current fiscal circumstances.”
The Progressive Conservative government is trying to trim a deficit they peg at $14.5 billion—though the financial accountability officer says it's closer to $12 billion.
Charles Pascal, an education expert who served as an adviser to McGuinty, said full-day kindergarten has been shown to provide an important foundation for children.
“It's shameful in terms of removing something that is already showing, through evidence, how good the program is in terms of child outcomes,” he remarked.
“The research that's been done over the last number of years shows that when it comes to social, emotional, and literacy gain, the full-day learning program . . . is improving the outcomes of kids.”
The Ministry of Education's own research shows that full-day kindergarten reduces risks in language and cognitive development, and means kids are more likely to achieve academic success in Grade 1.
Research from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education also showed that kids who had been in full-day kindergarten scored higher on reading, writing, and number knowledge, and were better able to self-regulate or manage stresses.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said cutting full-day kindergarten would mean the government is turning its back on students.
“We find it absolutely disturbing that this government would suggest that to balance a budget to deal with the deficit that they're going to put in an austerity measure that could possibly see the elimination of full-day kindergarten for students four and five years old,” he noted.
“If they want to enhance the program and they want to do the best for students, reduce the class size cap in kindergarten from 29 to 26,” Hammond added.
“Maintain the program, maintain the teacher and [early childhood educator], and maintain the play-based learning.”
Currently, the kindergarten class size cap is 29 students, and the average of class sizes across any board can't be more than 26.
For the primary grades, the cap is 23 students but at least 90 percent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.
The consultation document also says there is an average child-to-educator ratio of 13:1 in kindergarten classrooms, as most have a teacher and an early childhood educator.
It asks what the implications of the two-educator model are on student outcomes, educator working conditions, and value for money.
The document also asks if there are other models the ministry should consider.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said she's already getting calls from panicked parents, worried that full-day kindergarten is on the chopping block.
“No parent should have to worry that their kids will miss out on the advantages of full-day kindergarten,” she said in a statement.
“It's unconscionable for the Ford Conservatives to consider making our youngest students pay for their cuts.”