Nearly 600 Ontario schools will offer full-day kindergarten to four- and five-year-olds next fall, The Canadian Press has learned.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, who is moving ahead with the costly program despite the province's unprecedented $25-billion deficit, will be in Chatham, Ont., Tuesday to unveil details of the first phase of the plan, expected to take five years to implement.
McGuinty will announce which local schools in Chatham will offer the full-day kindergarten while members of the provincial legislature will do the same in their ridings, a government official said Monday.
A complete list of schools that got the green light will be posted online shortly after, the source said.
About 35,000 children, or 15 per cent of all eligible kids, will be able to enrol in the program next September, and McGuinty has promised to expand that to 50,000 kids in 2011.
All eligible four- and five-year-olds should be able to enrol in the program by 2015, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion a year.
McGuinty made full-day early learning an election promise.
Low-income neighbourhoods the priority
The Liberal government has set aside $500 million over two years to start up full-day kindergarten. Priority is to be given to low-income neighbourhoods, as well as those that have available space and have the greatest need for the program.
About 18,000 of the more than 240,000 junior and senior kindergarten students in Ontario are already enrolled in full-day learning at a handful of francophone and Catholic schools, which fund the programs by diverting money from other sources.
The full-day program is optional, as school is not mandatory in Ontario until age six, but busing will only be available twice a day —in the morning and the afternoon — at schools that offer the program.
If parents don't want their children to be in school all day, they will have to make their own travel arrangements.
They can also ask their school board to switch their child to another school that offers the half-day program, said Michelle Despault, spokeswoman for Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.
Teachers will take the lead in full-day kindergarten but will also work with early educators.
Class sizes will increase under the new program, but the government has promised there will be enough funding for two adults for every 26 children. The current provincial cap for primary classes with one adult is 20 to 23 students.
Once the program is fully rolled out, parents will be able to pay a fee to obtain childcare before 9 a.m. and after 3:30 p.m., which would be staffed by early childhood educators.
New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec offer all-day kindergarten for five-year-olds. Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec offer some programs for four-year-olds.
British Columbia is planning to offer full-day kindergarten to all of its five-year-olds by 2011, starting with at least half of its schools next September.