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Manitoba has lots of research on all-day kindergarten but still isn't funding it

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is resisting calls to fund all-day kindergarten despite a push from school trustees and more than a decade's worth of largely supportive research compiled by its own staff.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press through freedom-of-information laws show the NDP has been building a file on all-day kindergarten since first being elected almost 15 years ago. The research shows children in all-day kindergarten have better language, social and communication skills.

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."

Full-day kindergarten exists in seven provinces and territories across Canada, the note states. A poll conducted by the department shows 61 per cent of those surveyed in Manitoba wanted full-day kindergarten to be a government priority, it adds.

A briefing note from 2001 summarizing a full-day pilot project said parents of kindergarten-aged children felt the program "had a positive effect on their children's educational experience."

"Even parents who originally had concerns about the project are now in favour of it."

Education Minister James Allum says 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 very 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."

Some school boards in Manitoba do offer all-day kindergarten, but they don't receive funding from the province to support it. The Manitoba School Boards Association formally called on the government to fund those schools boards that wish to offer a full-time program, but were rebuffed.

"School boards are given the option of scheduling kindergarten in a manner best suited to local needs," several briefing documents repeatedly note through the years.

The department's early child education unit is working with two Manitoba school divisions to analyze the impact of their full-day kindergarten programs.

Manitoba's largest school division, Winnipeg, is also studying the idea and could set up pilot projects soon. Trustee Mark Wasyliw said research has shown investing in children early saves money down the road.

"It's an investment," he said. "A classroom is much cheaper than a prison cell ... It comes down to a question of political will."

Carolyn Duhamel, executive director of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said the group is expecting a change in the near future.

"Might it come here? Possible, (but) given where the economy is in this province right now, I would think just financially and economically, not any time soon."

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