Updated: Apr 26, 2018
In 2015, the NDP campaigned and was elected on a promise of introducing $25-a-day daycare to Alberta. The aim of this promise was to make daycare more affordable for working parents and encourage more women to enter the workforce. While this is a noble goal, the policy proposed by the NDP is entirely short-sighted.
To understand how this policy will negatively impact Alberta’s child care system, we must first understand how the current child care funding model works.
Alberta’s child care centres are made up of both private and non-profit daycares, out of school cares, preschools and private day homes. From an operating perspective, there is no difference between how these models operate; they all adhere to the same licensing standards and charge fees commensurate with their operating expenses.
All child care centres have the option of partaking in an accreditation program through the Accreditation of Early Learning and Care Services. This program was designed to create a standard for the quality of care that Alberta child care centres provide and accredited centres are eligible to receive wage top ups for staff, corresponding to staff member’s level of education. Participating in this program helps centres attract high-quality staff and provide the best quality care possible to their families.
To help parents cope with the cost of child care, Alberta has a subsidy program which offers maximum subsidy to parents earning a household income less than $50,000 (and partial subsidy to household incomes less than $62,000). The amount of subsidy that each parent is approved for is set-off against his or her centre’s child care fees. The parent is then required to pay the balance of his or her child care fees, often referred to as the “parent portion”. (It is important to note that the threshold income required to qualify for subsidy, as well as subsidy rates, have not changed since 2012).
The beauty of the subsidy system lies in its simplicity. Subsidy follows the parent, so parents have ultimate control over what type of centre their children attend – private, non-profit, daycare, day home, small, large, learning through play, Montessori, Reggio, faith-based, etc. – and where that centre is located.
The introduction of $25-a-day daycare creates three important differences to the current model:
1. $25-a-day daycare will only be offered at non-profit centres. When asked whether private centres would have the opportunity to participate in the program, a cabinet minister emphatically told an AACCO member that the answer was “no.”
2. In order to participate in the program, non-profit centres will be forced to abandon their current educational philosophies and follow a curriculum framework developed by child care professionals with funding from the Alberta government – “Play, Participation and Possibilities: An Early Learning and Child Care Curriculum Framework.”
3. The majority of the non-profit child care centre’s funding will come from the government. By participating in this program, non-profit centres will receive up to $500,000 per year and can only charge the parents attending the program $25-a-day, which works out to approximately $550 per month. Parents receiving subsidy will essentially receive free child care as maximum subsidy approval is between $546 and $628 per child. There also doesn’t appear to be any accountability for non-profit centres in how that money is used, so long as they offer parents cheaper rates.
Despite their commitment to creating more affordable child care, the government has not addressed the current system of subsidy, which has not changed in several years. Minimum wage has drastically increased and the government has not made any indication that they will increase the threshold for subsidy eligibility or increase the amount of subsidy parents receive. As minimum wage rises, AACCO members foresee that less parents will be eligible for subsidy and those parents that lose subsidy but are unable to secure a spot in a $25-a-day daycare may actually see their child care fees drastically increase.
Alberta has a rich history of private operators opening child care centres and providing a world-class quality of child care. There are hundreds of private operators throughout Alberta who have invested significant resources into creating child care spaces badly needed by Alberta parents.
In spite of the heavy private sector presence, AACCO members unanimously agree that they received no consultation from the government regarding the implementation of $25-day daycare and our members are worried about their futures as the government has chosen to pit non-profit operators against private operators and support non-profit operators over private operators.
The implementation of $25-a-day daycare may mean that we will see a lot of private operators close their doors as they will not be able to offer the same rates as non-profits. Whether enough non-profits will be able to open to counter these closures will remain to be seen, but if they don’t, Alberta will likely see the large waiting lists for child care centres that we are currently seeing in Quebec. This would be catastrophic for Alberta parents and children who are already facing a critical shortage of quality child care spaces.
At the end of the day, more investment in child care is always a good thing. But instead of working within the existing framework, the NDP has decided to re-invent the wheel and propose a child care system that is threatening to take choice away from parents, cause private operators to shut down, may increase the cost of child care for parents and ultimately reduce accessibility of child care.
AACCO will advocate for a more thoughtful, more pragmatic approach to our province’s child care file. Alberta parents and children deserve it.