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LETTER TO EDITOR: Funding cuts detrimental to early learning

opinion

I am writing to express my concern about the recent government decision to remove the Benefit Contribution Grant (BCG) and Staff Attraction Incentive (SAI) from licensed and accredited early learning and care centres (ELCs) as of April 1, 2020.

In a Global News article posted Dec. 16, Alberta’s Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz was quoted as saying:

“Our government is committed to responsible fiscal management and directing government funding where it is needed most. Therefore, the decision was made to discontinue the Benefit Contribution Grant and the Staff Attraction Incentive. We do not expect this to impact children and families who use licensed childcare.”

As an early learning and care operator in Alberta, I can tell you that this will have an immediate and drastic effect on children and families. This represents a 16 per cent cut to the wage enhancement funding. For most ELCs, over 90 per cent of their operating budgets are attributed to salaries. We cannot absorb the impact of this cut.

Our choices are to cut staff salaries, raise parent fees, and/or reduce the number of staff to recover this cost. In any scenario, the cut to the BCG grant will have a serious impact on children and families.

The greatest indicator of quality in early learning and care is an educator’s level of education and the removal of the BCG and its impact on wage enhancement will be felt by our most educated staff. If centres are forced to cut salaries, this could result in educators leaving the field in search of higher paying positions, loss of pedagogical leadership, decreased staff morale, and lower quality of early learning and care, resulting in high staff turnover (which is already high) and uncertainty and inconsistency for children and families. All these directly affect the quality of care.

This government wants to focus on helping families, but this announcement comes at a time when organizations and families are already reeling from the loss of two subsidy programs and the early learning and care pilot initiative, which helped families pay for the high costs of child care. Early learning and care fees in Alberta are too high for many low- and middle-income families, especially those with more than one child. The long-term effect of this cut will see families no longer able to afford quality early learning and care, resulting in women leaving school, exiting the workforce, and/or children going into unlicensed, poor-quality childcare.

It is well recognized that early learning and care has the potential to address multiple social and political objectives. Women’s equality and employment, poverty reduction, family-work balance, social integration and equal opportunity, improved child development and well-being, and economic prosperity are regularly cited as good reasons to support high quality early learning and care for all Alberta families.

These cuts will contribute to destabilize the early learning and care sector in Alberta, and I am asking the government to restore this funding and not make any further cuts to early learning and care. Children and families who use licensed ELCs will be negatively impacted by your decision. The Alberta government needs to create an early learning and care system that is planned and invested in wisely, one that meets the needs of all Alberta’s children and their families.

 

Christine Villeneuve

Executive Director

Westlock Child Care Society





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