WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s largest school division is experimenting with full-day kindergarten, despite the provincial government’s reluctance to fund it.
The Winnipeg School Division released details of its draft budget Tuesday, and it includes plans for a full-day nursery/kindergarten pilot program in four schools.
“The board of trustees recognize the importance of early childhood learning and will implement a pilot project in four schools to provide one full-day kindergarten classroom for the 2014-15 school year,” a division spokesperson wrote in an email to Global News. “The cost included in the draft budget is $225,000.”
Implementing full-day kindergarten in all the division’s schools would be a much costlier proposition: about $12.8m a year. That’s a virtually impossible sum for the division to cover without more funding from the province’s NDP government.
All the division’s schools currently offer half-day nursery/kindergarten programs. Some school boards in Manitoba do offer all-day kindergarten, but they don’t receive funding from the province to support it.
Earlier this week it was revealed the NDP has been kicking the tires on full-day kindergarten for more than a decade, but has always shied away from implementing it due to the cost.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press said the province’s own research showed 61 per cent of Manitobans want the government to treat full-day kindergarten as a funding priority.
One briefing note for the education minister in September 2013 summarized research from Ontario, which is phasing in all-day kindergarten.
“Overall, students in full-day kindergarten are better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school,” reads the note. “In every area, students improved their readiness for Grade 1 and accelerated their development.”
Education Minister James Allum said the benefits of all-day kindergarten aren’t clear even with all the research on the topic.
“I think it’s fair to say that the jury is still out on the entire value of full-day kindergarten, either from an academic stance, an emotional stance or a social stance,” he said recently.
It’s a costly initiative, Allum added. Instead, he said, the province has chosen to put its money toward reducing class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3.
“In government, you are required to make difficult choices. For us, the real key was trying to ensure that teachers and students get more one-on-one time from K to three,” he said. “It’s important for us to finish that process … before we begin to introduce some new ideas into the picture.”