Province gets an earful on funding for full day kindergarten

What started as a community meeting to discuss child care quickly turned political, with a lone Member of Provincial Parliament on one side and a Toronto city councillor on the other.

And the city councillor had one clear message: unless the province ponies up for an extra $74-million, some 7,000 full-day kindergarten spaces will be lost.

The second of two community meetings to discuss the current state of child care, specifically full-day kindergarten, was recently held at St .Jude Catholic School at 3251 Weston Rd. Ward 5 councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, chaired the meeting and was joined by Liberal MPP Mario Sergio, the member for York West.

Mammoliti kicked off the discussion, saying “$74-million is needed immediately.”

Sergio said he would take the comments back to Queen’s Park: “Once the budget comes up, we can hopefully fill some of the funding gaps.

Elaine Baxter-Trahair, the general manager with the the city’s Children’s Services division, said the money is needed to transition provincially funded daycare centers once the three and four year olds leave for full day kindergarten.

“The childcare system requires a re-engineering because it loses funding from that age group,” she said.

Effie Rassias, who works with the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said the those daycare centre’s would be left with empty classrooms unless they were transitioned for use by younger children.

“The city will have to change the spaces to accommodate the zero to three-year-olds,” she said. “This includes hiring more teachers because younger children need more staffing.”

The funds would also help pay for cost-sharing inequities.

Baxter-Trahair said the sixty-nine percent of the child care budget is shared with the province, but the money spent does not reflect that.

“The provinces share of the costs has not been indexed for inflation and is still at 1995 levels,” she said.

Mammoliti, chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Child Care, said the city has had to dip into the operating budget’s reserve fund to make up for the shortfall: “those run out in 2014,” he said.

Mammolitti applauded Sergio for showing up and “taking one of the chin,” but pressed the city’s case, telling the MPP that until the province commits to full-day kindergarten, the city is in “limbo”.

Sergio would not comment on provincial budget specifics but did note both the Premier, Dalton McGuinty, and the finance minister, Dwight Duncan, have already rejected one of the key recommendations of the Drummond Report, which called on the province to drop funding for full-day kindergarten.

“We have already said no; full day kindergarten is not on the chopping block,” he said.