The Ford government is still “reviewing all of our options” when it comes to full-day kindergarten, says Ontario’s education minister amid growing speculation the province is looking to move away from the current staffing model of a teacher and early childhood educator.
“As you know, there’s been work,” Lisa Thompson told reporters at Queen’s Park Monday. “There’s no stone unturned at this stage of the game. We are reviewing all of our options.”
She also noted the government is not looking at any changes in classroom sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 — as they are from Grades 4 through 12 — and “we look forward to working with our experts in the classroom.”
Thompson, and Premier Doug Ford, have previously committed to keeping full-day learning as is for the coming school year after an outcry from parents when the government was not clear about the future of the popular program.
Full-day was absent from Thompson’s big education announcement last week, though the education ministry has been consulting on various aspects of the program, which costs the province $ 1.5 billion a year.
“People ask is full-day kindergarten safe? I say safe for a year maybe at most,” said NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles. “The government is definitely going to be reducing resources.”
The government also recently polled voters on full-day kindergarten, asking about different staffing scenarios.
Tom MacKay, a former teacher who now practises family law in Windsor, said an Ipsos pollster contacted him by phone on the evening of March 8 to answer a survey “on behalf of the government of Ontario.”
(Ipsos Reid says it does not reveal clients or the nature of the polling they do.)
MacKay said the poll lasted between 10 and 15 minutes — and the first question was a general open-ended query about the priorities he wanted to see addressed in his area.
The second question was about autism and the rest of the survey focused on education — and primarily kindergarten, he said. He said he was asked if he favoured two early childhood educators and no teacher in the classroom, or one teacher only, with no ECEs.
“I said it was like asking me to cut off my pinky or my thumb because the roles are different and both are necessary,” he said. But if he had to choose, MacKay said he would pick one teacher.
The next question asked if he supported optional full-year kindergarten “as a way to reduce costs to parents for child care and to reduce income inequality,” according to MacKay.
The pollster also asked about the importance of having teachers with a university education in the kindergarten classroom, he said.
“The Ford government seems to be making changes without any research framework behind it — and no consultation. Their election platform was silent on education reforms,” said MacKay, who lives in Essex and who quit teaching to go into law 15 years ago.
“I worry they are just winging it,” added MacKay, who is involved in the local NDP riding association, and is not a Ford supporter.
Kayla Iafelice, spokesperson for Thompson, said in a written statement that “the Ontario government regularly asks families for their input and feedback on important issues.”
The government, she added, is “consistently engaging with families and sector partners and we look forward to sharing the results of these consultations in the near future.”
Child-care policy expert Martha Friendly, of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, said she supports the current model of one teacher and one ECE in full-day kindergarten and has seen no research or studies to suggest changes are needed.
“Full-day kindergarten is working relatively well,” she said. “Of all the things that need to be done, the only rationale to change (the staffing model) would be to cut money.”
The introduction of full-day kindergarten a decade ago by the previous Liberal government caused a huge upheaval in the child-care sector, Friendly noted. And now, just as the sector has adjusted, the possibility of moving from the teacher-ECE model to a two ECE model in full-day kindergarten, will cause more trained professionals in child care to flee, she said.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb