Almost all child-care centres in Alberta have entered or re-entered a program offering subsidized fees to eligible parents, despite concerns from many operators that the program will hurt their businesses.
"We didn't have a choice," said Gagandeep Chohan, who owns Bright Start Daycare in Edmonton and signed the agreement with the province before the Jan. 31 deadline.
According to the ministry of children and family services, 98 per cent of centres signed agreements with the province.
The federally funded program, which aims to offer child care for $10 per day by 2026, limits parents' fees via grants to operators. In Alberta, those operators receive a fixed amount per child plus funding for wage top-ups and professional development for certified early childhood educators.
Chohan said leaving the program would mean parents would be charged much higher fees and her staff would not receive the wage top-ups.
"Basically, I will have no business," she said.
Some operators claimed the grants did not cover the full cost of providing child care and told parents they were considering opting out of the program this year.
However, the 98 per cent uptake by the deadline is higher than in previous years, said ministry press secretary Ashli Barrettand. The government is working through the remaining agreements to determine the final number.
"This is good news for Alberta parents, who will continue to have access to this program, hopefully through the provider that they already have," said Susan Cake, chair of the advocacy group Child Care Now Alberta.
Grant lags behind other cost hikes
Some child-care operators closed their doors for a day last week to protest the $10-a-day program. They have said the renewed funding model, which is supposed to bring down the average cost for parents down, is not financially viable for their businesses.
Chohan said the costs of groceries, utilities, educational supplies, field trips and insurance have gone up more than the grant increase.
Operators have also raised concerns about grant funds being paid after each month, instead of at the beginning of the month.
"We always seem to be behind," said Lisa Fletcher, who owns My Happy Place Daycare and Out-of-School Care in Stony Plain.
Lisa Fletcher says her child-care centre in Stony Plain may stop offering meals and extended operating hours because government grants don't cover their costs. (Travis McEwan/CBC)
Fletcher said her centre may have stop offering meals and extended hours because they are not sustainable.
Morgan Elemans said her daughter's child-care centre in Lethbridge also signed the agreement but told parents that, as a result, it will have to cut back on operating hours, craft supplies and substitute staff.
"I'm about to lose quality of care because they had to re-sign the agreement," she said.
Elemans said she was grateful for affordable child care because it meant she did not have to go into debt to go back to school, but she would rather pay a little more now rather than see the centre cut back.
Krystal Churcher, the chair of the Association of Alberta Childcare Entrepreneurs, says she met with Premier Danielle Smith on Thursday night to discuss concerns about the funding model.
"I feel optimistic that there will be some solutions brought forward to operators in the next few days," she said.