N.L.’s pre-kindergarten pilot program falling short, so far

A child holding a book.
Newfoundland and Labrador has 13 licenced sites for its pre-kindergarten pilot program. When announced, the province promised the program would be in 35 schools. (CBC)

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has, so far, fallen short on its promise to have a pre-kindergarten pilot program in place at 35 schools in 28 communities across the province. 

The goal of the pilot, created by $347 million in federal funding and first announced in May 2022, was to have 600 more child-care spaces opened up as parents struggled to find placements for their preschool-aged children.

The end goal is a fully implemented program by 2025-26 with about 3,100 regulated spaces in N.L. Those spaces are supposed to be operated by non-profit organizations and not the school district.

The pilot began in September 2022.

CBC News has attempted to set an interview with newly minted Education Minister Krista Lynn Howell multiple times since July 7. The Department of Education instead emailed a statement on Tuesday, saying the minister is unavailable for the remainder of the week. 

“The pre-kindergarten pilot program has been under a continuous evaluation since it began in September 2022. Following the conclusion of the pilot program, the Department of Education will evaluate the program in its entirety in preparation for it to continue,” the department’s statement reads. 

“Pre-kindergarten programs are operating on school-based sites. Additional components, such as enhanced transition and school readiness activities, which can be found in a junior kindergarten curriculum, will be incorporated into the pre-[kindergarten] program. This program has the added benefit of being available to families year round, which is important for continuity of care.”

An empty classroom.
The pilot program began in September 2022. The end goal is to have 3,100 regulated spaces in N.L. by 2025-26. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Right now, there are only 13 licenced sites in Newfoundland and Labrador for the pre-kindergarten program:

  1. East Point Elementary.
  2. Elizabeth Park Elementary.
  3. Elwood Elementary.
  4. Gander Academy.
  5. Bay Roberts Primary.
  6. Paradise Elementary.
  7. Bishop Abraham Elementary.
  8. Persalvic Elementary.
  9. Lewisporte Academy.
  10. Woodland Primary.
  11. Eastside Elementary.
  12. Donald C Jamieson Academy.
  13. Admiral’s Academy.

The department said it “anticipates additional sites to be added soon,” but offered no further details. 

At the time of the province’s announcement, David Philpott, a retired Memorial University professor in education and longtime advocate for improving the province’s daycare system, shared his concerns. 

Among them were the lack of available early childhood educators (ECEs) needed for the expansion of the industry under the pilot. 

Child with puzzle.
The Department of Education said it anticipates additional sites for the pilot program to be ‘added soon.’ (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Philpott was also part of a group that pitched a similar idea in 2010 and in 2017 sat on the province’s education task force, where he once again pitched the strategy. 

In a March funding announcement, the federal and provincial governments earmarked a one-time investment of $6.5 million that included an expected wage increase for ECEs by Jan. 1 and 700 additional seats in post-secondary early learning and child-care programs. The province’s goal is to increase fully certified ECEs working in the sector by at least 60 per cent by 2025-26.

Still, parents are continuing to struggle to find daycare space for their children.

On Friday, the advocacy group Jimmy Pratt Foundation released its own report that proposes five ways in which government can increase the number of available child-care spaces in the province within a matter of months.

The foundation said demand for daycare spots have spiked since $10-a-day child care was implemented at the beginning of 2023.

About 75 per cent of children in Newfoundland and Labrador live in a child-care desert, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. That means there are more than three children for every available licensed space.

The report also mentions a new wage grid is necessary for ECEs and that junior kindergarten programs should be co-taught by ECEs and a teacher within the school system. That would give ECEs a unionized position and benefits.

Further, the report recommended having the public sector drive the expansion of child-care spaces instead of the for-profit or non-profit sectors.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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