Full-day kindergarten pledge falls short

Ramp-up planned for September 2013

Alberta parents shouldn't expect to see the full-day kindergarten promised by Premier Alison Redford this fall, but the province's education minister says as much as 50 per cent of Alberta kindergarten spots will be in full-day programs by the beginning of the 2013 school year.

When fully ramped up, Thomas Lukaszuk said, full-day classes will cost the province an extra $200 million per annum, and will probably be an option rather than mandatory program.

However, the minister expects abundant uptake because "parents see value in this."

Under questioning by the Alberta Liberals in the legis-lature on Tuesday, Lukaszuk said the Redford government's commitment to full-day kindergarten stands, but more classroom space will be needed to house what he said is essentially a new grade.

"It is obvious that you just can't flick a switch and make it available September 2012," Lukaszuk said.

"There simply isn't enough space capacity in many of the schools."

In an interview, the minister said the program funding will come, and the only limiting factor for getting children into full-day kindergarten, which many educators believe improves literacy and social skills development, will be available infrastructure.

"You will see it in September of 2013; you will see a wide-scale implementation," Lukaszuk said, noting already one quarter of kindergarten children attend full-day classes.

"It will be somewhere probably between 25 and 50 per cent by 2013, and building year by year." Lukaszuk said his department is doing an analysis of classroom availability. Some school boards have excess capacity, he said, and others that have "zero capacity" will request portables.

"Some school boards may consider actually redesignating an entire school that's empty into all kindergarten," Lukaszuk said. "Different school boards will find different ways of doing it."

In the PC party leadership race last year, Redford said within a year of forming the government, she would implement full-day kindergarten. Last December the premier said the program would be phased in within two or three years.

But Alberta Liberal education critic Kent Hehr said he doesn't see the Tories putting money or a real commitment behind the full-day program. The Calgary-Buffalo MLA said the budget doesn't contain firm numbers for staffing or building new school infrastructure.

"This is simply a promise to do something in the future," Hehr said.

"It's another leadership promise that has fallen by the wayside."

The public Calgary Board of Education already provides full-day kindergarten in 16 schools, while the Calgary Catholic School District has the program in 22 schools.

Those programs are paid for out of the boards' existing funding and are in schools where it is felt a significant portion of the students would benefit, such as schools with a large number of children who speak English as a second language.

Chris Smeaton, superintendent for the Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Separate Regional Division No. 4, said his southern Alberta school division would need to add a number of modular classrooms to existing schools to accommodate the change.

Smeaton said only one of the school division's 10 elementary schools now has the space for full-day kindergarten programming.

"Currently the infrastructure doesn't support it," he said.

In Calgary, the public board also said not every elementary school today has room for full-day kindergarten classes. Through a spokeswoman, board chairwoman Pat Cochrane said she and the board of trustees are "looking forward to working with the minister on this issue and to exploring further with him what his vision for all-day kindergarten will be."

Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 7 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.