Alberta gets it right on daycare

When Kevin and Sue Preece decided to open a new daycare in Canmore, they had a decision to make. Should they run it as a non-profit or for-profit operation?

When Kevin and Sue Preece decided to open a new daycare in Canmore, they had a decision to make. Should they run it as a non-profit or for-profit operation?

The couple was committed to providing quality child care in the under-serviced Bow Valley region of Alberta.

With years of experience in Early Childhood Education, Sue Preece was familiar with all that was required.

“We had the option of going either way,” she recalls. “But past experience convinced me for-profit was the way to go. As owner, I want to be accountable to parents.”

The Preeces were fortunate. And so were parents living in Canmore.

For Alberta has not made daycare an ideological battlefield, as is the case in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Alberta has always treated for-profit and non-profit daycares in an equal fashion. The result is a much more responsive and entrepreneurial child care sector that better meets the needs of parents, children and taxpayers.

Last year the Preeces used a provincial grant to convert a former private school into Dragonfly Daycare, located in the Grotto Mountain Village area of Canmore. With 50 kids attending daily, they still have space for a few more. But without access to funding, Preece figures her operation would be half its current size, and local parents would be suffering from a lengthy waiting list.

Preece has also benefited from a variety of grants and subsidies provided by the province to recruit staff and improve quality. “Getting trained staff is a definite difficulty,” she says.

A key factor in ensuring these programs translate quickly into new spaces is that they’re available to all licensed centres regardless of ownership type, unlike the situation in the other Prairie provinces.

Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan deny the commercial daycare sector access to most subsidies and grants.

There is only one for-profit daycare in all of Saskatchewan. In Manitoba, they comprise only five percent of the total.

The predictable results are lengthy waiting lists and constant complaints from parents. Saskatchewan has the lowest level of child care coverage in the country. Manitoba suffers complaints about daycare shortages.

While no one would argue that Alberta’s daycare sector is entirely trouble-free, treating for-profit and non-profit child-care centres equally has led to a much better outcome for everyone concerned. Alberta has a majority of for-profit centres.

Evidence from across the country shows that commercial child care centres are a crucial factor in improving access to daycare and reducing parental complaints about waiting lists. Over the past year, Alberta has been able to roll out more than 6,500 new spaces by providing subsidies and grants equally to both for-profit and non-profit facilities. The provincial goal of opening 14,000 new spaces in three years is already half complete after just one year.

It is also the case that Alberta is twice as efficient as Manitoba – and three times as efficient as Saskatchewan – at converting government subsidies into new licensed child-care spaces. Thus taxpayers are also benefit from a fair child care funding policy.

Complaints from advocacy groups that for-profit daycares sacrifice quality are misplaced. Both for-profit and non-profit centres must meet exactly the same licensing, staffing and quality requirements. Where differences are identified, it is typically the result of unequal funding policies in other provinces.

Peter Taylor is the author of the new Frontier Centre report Little Crèche on the Prairies: Child Care Policies in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

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