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Children in Teresa Tommasone's senior kindergarten class at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont. are photographed Dec. 8, 2009. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Children in Teresa Tommasone's senior kindergarten class at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont. are photographed Dec. 8, 2009. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Full-day kindergarten spending may deliver twice the returns: report Add to ...

The billions of dollars the Ontario government intends to spend on its new full-day kindergarten model has the potential to deliver twice as much in immediate returns, according to a report to be released Monday.

Although the report makes a case for the program's hefty price tag, it likely overestimates the actual returns Ontarians will see. The report is an analysis of the cost-benefit model put forth by Charles Pascal's Early Learning Program, an expert's idea for rebuilding education for young people in Ontario. But the province made an expensive decision to rely more on teachers than the early child educators recommended in Mr. Pascal's model. Extended-day and year-round childcare, also recommended in the model, won't be available at most of the approximately 600 schools where full-day kindergarten will be introduced this fall.

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Premier Dalton McGuinty's government has pledged to gradually roll out the program in every school across the province by 2015 with an initial $200-million for this school year, $300-million for the second year, and $245-million toward renovations and school additions.

The report, which was commissioned by the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, which was led until recently by Mr. Pascal, found that full-day kindergarten would create 29.3 jobs for every $1-million invested in operations and 20.1 jobs for every $1-million invested in building and renovating classrooms. It also found that every $1 invested in early learning would generate $2.42 in benefits for the province through increased earnings, improved health outcomes and reduced social costs.

Dollars invested in early learning have higher returns than those spent on roads and infrastructure, said Robert Fairholm, a partner at the Centre for Spatial Economics and one of the authors of the report.

"An important aspect of early learning and education in general is that from an economic perspective we're building human capital," he said. "Human capital is one of the ways to increase the productive capacity of the economy."

In estimating the short- and long-term returns of the program, the authors looked at economic gains from associated education and construction jobs, increased freedom for parents to hold jobs and pursue further training, and reduced drop-out and retention rates.

Mr. Fairholm said some returns would be lost without the extended-day and year-round childcare because children benefit from fewer transitions during the school day, and because the program would facilitate parents' working schedules.

Boards in the GTA have said insufficient parent demand has prevented them from offering that element of Mr. Pascal's model.

"There's really been a wait-and-see attitude on behalf of parents," said Mr. Pascal, who hadn't seen the report. "I think we'll see that the pick-up next year is going to skyrocket."

Critics, including the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, have said the program will be too costly for a province in the red, and the real cost of full-day kindergarten will double initial estimates, reaching $1.8-billion annually.

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