'You'll hear from us,' Ford says about future of full-day kindergarten
Premier Doug Ford isn't making any promises about full-day kindergarten beyond the next school year, throwing the future of the program in doubt.
While the premier is committed to keeping the $1.5 billion education program for the 2019-2020 school year, Ford said his government is consulting on its continuation.
"We'll sit down and you'll hear from us in the future," Ford said during a visit to the Center for Mental Health and Addiction. "Once we sit down and come up with a solution, you'll be the first to know."
Ford wants the Ministry of Education to consult with both parents and frontline teachers whose opinions, he said, are "absolutely critical." Ford said any decision that his government makes on full-day kindergarten will be "better, not worse."
"We want to enhance the program with education, we don't want to hurt the program whatsoever," Ford stated, without going into detail about whether the government intends to invest more money into full-day kindergarten, trim the budget or eliminate it completely.
Introduced in 2010 by the former Liberal government, full-day kindergarten has seen enrollment figures in the hundreds of thousands while saving parents an average of $6,500 per year, according to a news release from 2016.
Studies conducted by the province, in partnership with Queen's and McMaster Universities, also suggested that full-day kindergarten students were better prepared for Grade 1, with reading, writing and math scores all positively impacted by 5 per cent, compared to students who did not enroll.
Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education says those studies showed marked improvements in communication and social skill,s and helped children develop traits important to their futures.
"Long term competencies in being able to collaborate with others, solve problems, use innovative approaches to problems -- that's what they're learning in full-day kindergarten," Kidder told CTV News Toronto.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath blasted the Ford government over the move.
"Doug Ford has put full-day kindergarten on the chopping block," Horwath said on Twitter. "Our world-class education system is already hanging by a thread — kids and families deserve better schools, not a deep cut that makes things worse for them, and forces students and parents to pay the price"
Ford said Ontario's $29 billion education sector is "broken" and his government will "review everything." However, Ford says he wants to balance the province's finances in a responsible manner in a way that isn't "reckless."
"We're not going in there with a chainsaw and cutting and slashing," Ford said. "It's not going to happen."
Kidder wants the Ford government to make an evidence-based decision rather than strictly focusing on the cost savings.
"It's an incredibly good investment, it just pays off over the long term."