II. Benchmarks focused on funding to promote quality, access and equity

The OECD noted Canada’s market-determined fee structure results in high parent fees and an inefficient subsidy system with widely varying and complex eligibility criteria (p. 8). It encouraged Canadian jurisdiction to “devise an efficient means of funding a universal early childhood service” (p. 72). There is general consensus across the OECD countries that substantial government investment is necessary to support a sustainable system of high quality, affordable services (OECD, 2006). Without strong government investment and involvement, it is difficult to achieve broad system aims, such as child health and well-being, equitable access, social inclusion and quality learning goals. Funding levels are important, but how services are funded also makes a difference. A universal approach appears to be more effective at including children from low-income families. Mixed enrollment in ECE is also associated with better-quality ratings than programs targeted to children from low-income families. Direct funding to programs appears to have a positive impact on staff wages and program stability, whereas funding through fee subsides or tax transfers has less effect. Since subsidies to parents seldom reflect the actual cost of child care, they tend to hold down staff wages and leave a gap between what parents receive and the fees programs must charge. This can exclude low-income families from using ECE centres.

Three benchmarks look at funding levels and how funds are directed.

Benchmark 5: At least two-thirds of child care funding goes to program operations

Percentage allocations to program operations, special needs integration and parent fee subsidies are determined through public reporting and are based on the last year a funding breakdown was available. Provinces may have announced global increases for child care in their 2011 budgets, but unless specified, it was assumed that new funding would follow the established breakdown. Funding for children with special needs is included as part of operations, since most provinces deliver this funding to child care programs rather than through parent fee subsides. The two-thirds benchmark for program funding was chosen because it is associated with greater system stability (see Figure 5.7).

Benchmark 6: Mandated salary and fee scale     

This benchmark reflects provincial policies establishing a maximum parent fee scale and a minimum wage scale for educators.

Benchmark 7: At least 3 percent of provincial budget is devoted to early childhood education

Percentages were calculated using total 2011 spending estimates as stated in provincial budget documents and total allocations for early childhood education. ECE spending includes total 2011 estimates for licensed child care programs from infants to 12 years of age, kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and other early education services, including school-based parent/caregiver/child programs. The 2011 estimates for kindergarten and education-offered programs were obtained from government documents or informant interviews. Where kindergarten funding was not specified, estimates were made based on per pupil spending in elementary school and, if applicable, pro-rated for half-time kindergarten.

Spending on ECE and other child care programs at 3 percent of provincial budget was chosen as a benchmark because it approaches the 1 percent of GDP that is considered a minimum investment in the care and education of young children (UNICEF, 2008). Compared to the 6 percent of GDP that provinces devote on average to elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, 1 percent represents a modest and fair share for children under five years of age (see Figure 5.8).

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