Jennifer Brown, the owner of La Petite École, a French-immersion preschool in Toronto, has no plans to join the federal child-care deal that promises to lower fees to an average of $10 per day by 2025. Signing the deal, she says, might put her out of business.
“We’re in a highly regulated industry already,” she said. “That’s not so much of a concern. It’s the oversight to the level of threatening the viability of our businesses, of keeping the doors open.”
Owners of licensed, for-profit centres in Ontario, including Ms. Brown, say that the child-care deal gives the government too much control over such things as deciding what amount of rent and profit are reasonable, and that it is unclear if the deal will cover expenses such as property tax. That level of control might make it impossible for them to operate, they say.
But child-care advocates and a researcher who has studied the for-profit sector say the terms of the deal are necessary to ensure public money is spent wisely. Meanwhile, parents who currently have children in licensed, for-profit centres are stuck in the middle, with likely no choice but to keep paying high fees.
Ontario is set to receive $13.2-billion in federal funding over six years to pay for the program, and government oversight is essential to ensure that money is properly spent, says Gordon Cleveland, an associate professor emeritus of economics at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
“The public would be very, very upset if they weren’t assessing whether fees were reasonable,” Prof. Cleveland said.
He estimates there are upward of 100,000 children in licensed, for-profit centres in Ontario who would be covered by the federal deal, which promises to lower fees for children up to age 5.
“Really what’s happening is child care is moving from a market service to being a public service but delivered by private operators,” Prof. Cleveland said.
But some owners of for-profit centres object to their businesses being treated as if they are under public control, such as having municipalities decide if the amount of rent a centre pays is reasonable market value and controls on how much profit a centre can make.
“It’s paternalistic, it’s patronizing, it’s insulting as a business to have to justify our expenses. This isn’t why we went in to business. We went in to business to run our own business,” said Maggie Moser, chief executive officer of Blossoming Minds Learning Centre and co-interim director of the Ontario Association of Independent Childcare Centres.
As well, the current wording of the deal leaves too much unclear for entrepreneurs who need to ensure the financial viability of their businesses, Ms. Moser said.
“It’s either vague or things are explicitly left out, like property taxes, like interest on loans, things that apply particularly to our membership. Non-profits aren’t in the same position with those type of expenses,” she said.
Given the large number of children in licensed, for-profit care in the province, it was necessary to include those centres in the deal, said Martha Friendly, founder and executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, a non-partisan research institute based in Toronto.
“Parents are using it. You can’t just sort of say we’re going to throw it all out the window,” she said.
But research consistently shows that non-profits pay their staff higher wages and offer higher-quality care than for-profit centres, Ms. Friendly said.
“Child care should not just be a market service. It’s a public good and we should treat it that way,” she said. “We will never have equitable, high-quality child care for all if it’s a market. There’s no country in the world where that has worked.”
The Ontario Association of Independent Childcare Centres says it wants more consultation with the government to clarify aspects of the deal prior to the deadline to sign on, which comes Sept. 1.
Meanwhile, parents who have children in for-profit care say they are in an unfair position because they won’t be able to switch their children to another child-care centre in time to enjoy lower costs considering waitlists are often up to two years long.
“It’s not fair, it’s not equitable if we have to continue to pay $1,600 for our spot and the same daycare down the street is charging $10 a day,” said Mark Vanpee, whose daughter goes to Blossoming Minds.
“I don’t see where I’m going to go that has $10-a-day daycare and get in before she starts school,” he said.
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