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The Canadian Press

Ambitious daycare agenda unveiled

Plan will eventually offer full day care for all children 2 1/2 and older

Canadian Press, Toronto Star and various other newspapers, November 25th, 2004

The daily dash between kindergarten and day care could one day be a thing of the past for Ontario parents under a provincial plan unveiled today to dramatically increase the number of available day care spaces.
Children's Minister Marie Bountrogianni promised more space for kindergarten-age kids by next fall as the province takes the first steps towards establishing a full day of learning for preschool-age kids - a master plan that's expected to take more than a decade to fully realize.

"Our first priority is to create a full day of learning and care for four and five year olds," Bountrogianni told a child and youth conference at the Ontario Science Centre as she made the announcement.

"We're rebuilding the link between child care and education so that children make the transition into Grade 1 smoothly."

The first spaces for kindergarten kids will be strategically located inside or nearby elementary schools to allow children to simply walk from their classroom to the day care centre, Bountrogianni said.

"Fewer families will have to scramble to get their kids from child care to school and back to child care again."

Bountrogianni said she wants as many as 50,000 new child care spots for kindergarten children by the end of the Liberal mandate in 2007. Fifteen years down the road, the government envisions a full day of learning for children as young as two and a half years old.

But for now, the province is planning just three pilot projects, one in each of a rural, urban and downtown setting - a plan critics say barely constitutes a step forward at all.

"This is not a `best start,"' said New Democrat critic Andrea Horwath, a reference to the name of the government's early-learning plan. "This is hardly a baby step."

Bountrogianni said Ontario won't copy Quebec's long-heralded day care program, where parents pay a daily fee of $7, although she has suggested the province's plan would one day surpass its Quebec counterpart.

"We're not going to have the Quebec model," she said. "This is a made-in-Ontario model."

Child-care experts, however, remained skeptical.

"From what we know so far I don't know how we'll be able to surpass Quebec," said Kira Heineck, executive director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.

The $400 million to kick-start Ontario's plan will come next year from the federal government as part of a national child care strategy that promises $5 billion for the provinces over the next five years.

But both Bountrogianni and Premier Dalton McGuinty said today that $400 million simply won't be enough.

"We need the resources to do this job," said McGuinty as he urged Ottawa to make more money available to accelerate provincial efforts.

Heineck said the province also needs more day care spaces for children younger than three.

Currently there are 175,000 regulated spaces in the province, with more than 80 per cent being operated by not-for-profit agencies. Ontario has about 1.3 million children under the age of 12, the majority of whom need some form of day or after school care.

As of next month, the province is also eliminating the subsidy restriction for parents with $5,000 or more in registered retirement savings plans or registered education savings plans - a move Heineck applauded.

"This is something we've been calling on for a long time," she said.

"It's useful for parents right now, but we again expect the next move (to go) beyond the subsidy system altogether to directly funding services, which will make them more accessible and affordable for parents all around."

The government is planning a new model for day-care subsidies, but is still working out details with municipal partners, which currently cover 20 per cent of child care costs.

Families earning less than $25,000 a year won't have to pay for child care, while those earning between $25,000 to $75,000 will get different levels of subsidies, Bountrogianni said.

Those families earning more than $75,000 a year will have to foot their day-care bills - which Heineck said can reach as much as $10,000 a year - on their own, she added.

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