As advocates begin to parse through the B.C. NDP’s $1-billion childcare budget, questions are being raised over early childhood educators – namely, how the government will hire more of them – or if they even should.
In Tuesday’s budget, the province estimated they will need 12,000 new such educators to provide 24,000 new licensed childcare spaces over three years.
That will more than double the number of those workers – something UBC economics professor Mariana Adshade called “a pipe dream.”
“In this current economy, where unemployment is at record lows, we’re going to find 6,000 daycare workers?” Adshade said. “It is a serious flaw.”
She said many considering the four-year early childhood education degree could earn a higher salary as a teacher.
“It has none of the benefits of being a teacher. It pays essentially minimum wage. You work 12 months of the year,” she said. “I do not know where they think those workers are coming from.”
Kris Sims, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, questions why so much of the funding is going to early childhood educators.
“We think the NDP ideally want to have ‘big daycare.’ They like the idea of daycare centres, they like the idea of professional ECE-degreed people taking care of the children, and only those people taking care of the children,” said Sims.
“The reality of that is that doesn’t fit for every family. Lots of families use other methods to take care of their kids.”
During Tuesday’s presentation, Finance Minister Carol James said the funding would include family childcare.
Sims said she would rather see that chunk of cash go back into the pockets of the people it came from.
“Then, you can put your child in official daycare, or you can use that money to pay grandma, or your neighbour, or your church group,” she said. “It’s a much more nimble and fair way of funding daycare.”
In 2017, about 71 per cent of childcare spaces were taken up in B.C., according to a government report. The rate ranges from a high of 79 per cent in Vancouver and Richmond to a low of 56 per cent in the Kootenays.
However, infant/toddler spaces are 85 per cent full and spaces for three- to five-year-olds are 74 per cent full.
That goes up to 90 per cent or more for infant/toddler spaces in the North Fraser, Vancouver and Richmond.
|Average monthly child care space utilization rates, April 2016 – March 2017. (Courtesy Ministry of Children and Family Development)
Getting parents back to work
Despite her concerns, Adshade said making childcare “all but free” for families earning less than $45,000 a year will boost the economy if it helps people go to work and earn more.
“That’s why the $10-a-day plan would do nothing for the economy,” she said. “You’re subsidizing people who would pay for daycare now.”
She pointed to her own situation, where she spent $35,000 on childcare for her son while pursuing her doctorate, and then spent the next decade paying back those student loans.
“That’s a real burden on families, especially on single mothers.”
It can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, she said, especially in teen moms who may be unable to finish high school or get any post-secondary education.
“If you can get those women who finish high school and have young children to go to community college, that would be amazing,” said Adshade. ”It does lift people up and it does create good role models for children.”