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Toronto school boards struggling to build almost 50 child-care centres despite 7-year head start

Toronto school boards say they’re struggling to build child-care centres and need more money to do it, but the Ontario government is calling their lack of progress “unacceptable” after having roughly seven years to get shovels into the ground. 

According to a report discussed by the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) planning and priorities committee Wednesday evening, the board is still waiting for approval from the Ministry of Education to build 11 centres, while estimated project costs have exceeded initial funding by almost 50 per cent for 17 other child-care centres.

The 17 centres were projected to create over 1,000 child-care spaces in areas with the highest demand for subsidized child care, such as Scarborough and west and northwest parts of the city, where “families continue to face significant inequities,” the board report states.

“Together with the City, TDSB has planned for 28 new licensed child-care centres across Toronto, none of which can proceed at this time,” reads the report, adding the board forked over an additional $14.3 million to build the projects to no avail.

“And while these projects remain on paper, thousands of families with young children struggle to find access to quality child care in their communities.”

The jeopardized child-care centres put a wrench in the province’s plan to create 86,000 new licensed child-care spaces for children five and under by the end of 2026 under the Canada-wide Early Learning and Child Care Plan, also known as the $10-a-day child-care plan. That’s why if the school boards aren’t able to deliver, Ministry of Education spokesperson Isha Chaudhuri said the ministry will look at other options to achieve its goals.

Chaudhuri said that last summer the ministry offered TDSB and Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) an extra 25 per cent in funding to help get the centres built.

“It is unacceptable that families are waiting seven years for the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board to deliver on these much-needed child-care spaces. Both boards have made no progress on 31 projects altogether,” she said.

“It is critical that child-care spaces are built quickly. If these school boards won’t live up to their end of the agreement, we will look at ways we can build affordable and accessible child care to ensure there are 18,000 new spaces in Toronto by 2026.”

WATCH | Some Ontario daycares reluctant to sign on to $10-a-day program:

Some Ontario providers reluctant to sign on to $10-a-day child-care program

2 years ago

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Ontario is facing challenges in making Ottawa’s national $10-a-day child-care program a reality for parents in the province, as some daycare providers are reluctant to sign on to the program.

In an email to CBC Toronto, the TCDSB confirmed it was given almost $30 million between 2017 and 2021 to build over 1,000 child-care spaces across 20 schools.

But in a letter to the ministry earlier this month, board chair Nancy Crawford said the original funding never supported the “true costs” associated with development, and it has only been made worse by inflation, material delivery times arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and “significant delays in response times” and approvals from the ministry and even the city of Toronto. 

“It is disheartening for families to discover that their schools, initially designated for child-care spaces, will not be available because your government is backing out of the necessary funding required for these previously approved child-care projects,” said Crawford.

“As such, we will not forego any previously approved child-care projects and expect the province to fulfill their promise to families.”

LISTEN | $10-a-day daycare facing massive road bumps threatening success:

Front Burner22:14Is $10 daycare in trouble?

The Trudeau government’s announcement in 2021 that they would bring daycare fees down to $10 a day within five years was a massive relief to many parents across the country. But two years after all the provinces signed on, this extremely popular program is clearly facing some bumps in the road: staffing shortages, massive wait lists, and daycares that can’t cover their costs. Today, Martha Friendly, executive director of the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, speaks to us about the growing pains confronting affordable daycare. 

Advocate calls for continued advocacy

Susan Colley, the co-founder and chair of Building Blocks for Child Care, which describes itself as a non-profit aimed at expanding non-profit and public early learning and child care programs, said the province seems to be “doing everything in its power to doom to failure” the $10-a-day plan and “to blame everyone but themselves in the process.”

She said it’s not only Toronto school boards that are struggling to get their child-care centres off the ground.

“There is frustration about this right across the province,” said Colley in front of TDSB’s planning and priorities committee on Wednesday.

“I really urge you to continue negotiations and advocacy… to keep up the pressure, because we really don’t want to lose these valuable spaces.”

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