An action group says regulations imposed by the province’s new child care plan could force some daycare centres to shut their doors.
Eight early childhood educators all dressed in black met Wednesday to discuss concerns affecting daycares across the province — ones they feel could lead to the death of the industry.
Giant Steps Children’s Centre was filled with children’s toys and artwork, acting as a bright contrast to the speaker’s dim message.
“With our overall expenses going up by 3-4 per cent each year and our fee increase capped at one per cent, how long will it take before we must close our doors?” asked Donna Buckland, the executive director of Giant Steps.
A new plan
In June, education minister Karen Casey released the Affordable, Quality Child Care: A Great Place to Grow! action plan.
One of the main points of this plan was to ensure that child care centres had enough money to pay all their staff a fair wage.
This included implementing a 1-3 per cent cap on fee increases and setting a minimum wage for staff based on their education level.
Buckland is also the spokeswoman for the Early Childhood Education Action Group, which was formed in protest of these changes and acts as the go-between for education workers and government.
She said all child care centres had to sign new contracts without seeing how the plan would be implemented financially.
Unable to budget
“It’s the first time in 14 years that I can’t do a budget for next year because I have no idea what my funding will look like,” Buckland told the small group of concerned parents and educators.
Casey knows that the funding formula is a prevalent, outstanding concern for many.
On Wednesday, she told the Chronicle Herald that the province needs to determine how taxpayers’ dollars can best support the operator, ECEs, parents and children.
Casey said the next step, to begin in the next two weeks, will be getting feedback.
“It will give operators an opportunity to bring ideas forward,” Casey said in a phone interview.
The government estimates that about 16,660 children attend child care programs at 391 child care centres and 15 family home daycare agencies.
Casey said individual operators have expressed concerns with the province’s plan, and when they contact the department staff address each one individually. She said in most cases, they have been resolved.
But until this week, the action group said, the province did not respond to their repeated requests to meet.
Casey said she knows the department has met with them in the past. “If someone wishes to have further conversation with the department, please give us a call.”
The new wage floor
The province’s plan also places emphasis on post-secondary training as a key indicator of quality.
Since October, centres receiving grant funding must pay ECEs based on a wage floor that rises with the level of training. Level one educators should be paid a minimum of $15, while level three staff are paid at least $19 an hour.
The action group believes a fair wage is a good idea, but doesn’t think it’s in the best interest of all Nova Scotians to base salaries soley on education.
“We believe ECE salaries should align with many factors, including personality, educational background, experience, classroom management and dedication,” said Buckland.
Buckland co-founded Giant Steps Children’s Centre in 2002. The business started out as a 14-space morning preschool program and grew to three child care centres that serve 450 families.
She wanted to make her centres the best they could be, in every aspect. “For these reasons, we decided we would set our wages as high as possible,” she said.
But child care centres have many expenses — mortgages, property taxes, groceries, advertising, supplies and snow removal.
“We have always struggled with being called a ‘for profit’ business,” she said.
Her centres employ 50 staff, and there are three mortgages to pay. After the bills are paid, these employees make what Buckland claims is a “very small” salary.
“Our only source of revenue is our child care fees,” she said. “We do not raise these fees without careful consideration as to how it will affect everyone involved.”
Buckland charges a $39 day rate for part-time families, while her full-time families pay $37 a day. She also offers sibling and staff discounts.
Best for business
Casey said the province looked at all the day cares, and assessed their abilities to operate with the fee cap. She admitted some could manage better than others.
“We also acknowledge that there are some operators who do not rely on taxpayers’ dollars, who do not get a grant from the government,” she said.
And if Casey and Buckland can agree on anything, it’s that the people on the front lines know what’s best for their business.
“Here we are in 2016, and the Nova Scotia government has decided they want to get involved in managing child care centres by dictating expenditures and limiting revenue,” said Buckland.
But Casey insisted that all operators will be included in that conversation.
“They are the ones that know their business best, and we need to have their input,” she said.
“So we want all of them to come to that table and help us come with a funding formula that works for everyone and still is a good investment for taxpayers in the province.”
Original publish date: Nov. 2, 2016