Full-day learning is here to stay.
Following days of confusion and controversy after both the education minister and premier refused to commit to keeping all-day kindergarten beyond the next school year, Lisa Thompson said the province will keep full-day learning for 4- and 5-year-olds .
“We have been clear from the beginning that we are listening to parents and consulting with our education partners to modernize and improve Ontario’s education system from kindergarten to Grade 12,” the education minister said in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
“There has been speculation around the issue of full-day kindergarten. Let me be clear, we are absolutely committed to full-day learning for 4- and 5-year-olds across the province.”
Thompson and Premier Doug Ford left the trial balloon hang out there all week long — neither confirming the all-day program beyond this fall, saying parents needed to “stay tuned” about its future.
Wednesday morning, Ford told reporters the government is “consulting with our education partners …But I can tell you that there’s going to be all-day kindergarten next year, and we’ll sit down and you’ll hear from us in the future.”
Ford also promised “a solution that’s better than the system that we have right now.”
The day before, Thompson refused to make a long-term commitment to the program, which began almost a decade ago at a cost of $1.5 billion a year, saying consultations are under way with teacher and support staff unions as well as trustee associations on full-day, class sizes and hiring rules.
Teacher unions opposed the move, saying it’s popular among educators and parents.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, has said he was not aware of any group that would support ending full-day learning, which research has shown benefits kids academically and socially.
Bischof said there would be a “whole coalition of people opposed to any move to either negatively alter the program or eliminate it.”
If the government were to kill it to save money, “that’s short-term thinking,” said the union leader who represents some early childhood educators. “You can look at full-day kindergarten as an expense, but it’s really not. It’s an investment.”
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, echoed that.
A ministry consultation document asks about full-day kindergarten and it’s staffing model, which is a full-time teacher and full-time early childhood educator with an average class size of 26.
In a 2012 report for the previous Liberal government, economist Don Drummond recommended axing the program to save money, but then-premier Dalton McGuinty — who made the full-day program a cornerstone of his 2007 re-election bid — rejected that suggestion.
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy