Ontario considers new ways to fund $10-a-day childcare in bid to increase uptake

Ontario is considering new ways to fund the province’s $10-a-day national childcare program as it seeks to address concerns from operators in an ongoing bid to increase uptake, particularly from the for-profit sector, it was able to say. know The Canadian Press.

The first step, following an extension this week of the subscription deadline, is to change the guidelines for 2022 in part to ease operators’ concerns about bureaucratic incursions into their business, including removing a reference to subscription limits. Profits.

By 2023, the government is considering changing the way the program is funded, giving operators more discretion over their spending, said senior government sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Sharon Siriboe, director of the Ontario Association of Independent Child Care Centers who runs a child care center in the Peel region, said the changes for 2022 will give for-profit centers more confidence to sign up and called on what is being considered for next year “promising.”

“(Yes) 2023 comes out and it lines up with what we’ve been told. I don’t see why vendors wouldn’t support this program,” he said.

One proposal the ministry is considering is to issue funds for the centers in packages, the sources said. A pool of money set aside for funding operations could be used for expenses such as buying new toys, repainting walls, catering or cleaning costs, with centers having the discretion to spend money on operations as they see fit.

A housing financing package could be used for expenses such as property taxes, rent and mortgage payments, the sources said.

The proposal seeks to address operators’ concerns about the language in the initial program guidelines, particularly the sections on ineligible spending.

Some operators were concerned that with items like property tax listed, they would not be able to make those payments if they opted into the program and their revenue would be reduced by parent fees. In addition, some interpreted the document to mean that they would have no control over decisions like buying new toys for their centers and would have to get even minor expenses approved by a city bureaucrat.

A section on “improper earnings” in the initial guidelines required municipalities to set a profit cap for malls and would see them return any money earned above that level to the Ministry of Education.

For 2022, the first partial year of the program, large sections of the guidelines were removed this week, including the list of eligible expenses and references to improper earnings.

Those sections, particularly the profit cap, had become a “finger stick,” the sources said, and were removed to clarify that centers opting for 2022 will get strict dollar-for-dollar replacement.

That means no matter what fees a center charges parents or what expenses it incurs to provide services, if you opt in for 2022, you’ll get the amount of money needed to reimburse parents.

The government had promised parents refunds of up to 25 percent retroactive to April 1 starting in the spring and a further 50 percent fee reduction, on average, by the end of the year. Rates will drop to an average of $10 per day by September 2025.

Implementation has been slower than anticipated: The government initially said rebates would begin to be issued in May, but parents in some municipalities only recently started seeing them, and acceptance has been delayed.

In Toronto, for example, 587 of a total of 1,042 licensed child care centers have applied to participate, and 32 have chosen not to participate, although the percentage of for-profit operators that have applied is much lower than that of nonprofit operators. that they are not. Profits

This week, the Ministry of Education extended the deadline for licensed child care providers to enroll in the program, from September 1 to November 1, in an attempt to get more to sign up. It is also streamlining the process and telling municipalities that they must share an example of a standard agreement with all licensed operators in their region.

Carolyn Ferns is the policy coordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, which advocates for public and nonprofit child care. She said the initial funding guidelines were quite reasonable and she worries the government is removing checks and balances on public money and capitulating to for-profit operators, who make up a quarter of licensed spaces in Ontario.

“We need to make sure that we’re getting as many centers as possible in this program, that’s right, but without compromising accountability, without compromising ensuring that this money is going to quality child care,” he said.

“Because at the end of the day, that’s what we need.”

Andrea Hannen, executive director of the Ontario Association of Day Care Operators, represents for-profit and nonprofit centers and said some nonprofit members share the concerns of for-profit centers.

One such concern is that Ontario currently plans to provide inflation increases of just 2.6 percent, while inflation in the province is 7.6 percent, Hannen said. Top government sources said the ministry is analyzing the impact of inflation.

As far as the overall funding structure is concerned, Hannen’s organization along with the Canadian Council of Montessori Trustees and the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools wrote to Lecce to request reimbursement for parents not to rely on their daycare option.

“We felt it was unfortunate that the reimbursement was tied to a center’s participation in the program, because that’s not really a factor that’s under the parents’ control,” Hannen said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 19, 2022.

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