More parents in Alberta will be able to access subsidized, private childcare spaces after the federal and provincial governments inked the next stage of their funding agreement.
Business owners in the sector have been lobbying for the expansion for months, saying the $3.8-billion federal deal first announced in late 2021 had shut them out and limited their expansion plans amid increased demand.
Both governments announced Tuesday that up to 22,500 additional for-profit childcare spaces may become eligible for funding supports over the next three years, for a total of 68,700 new licensed childcare spaces covered under the deal by the end of March 2026.
Of those private spaces, up to 1,600 may be eligible for funding almost immediately, with up to 2,000 more spaces eligible as soon as licensing requirements are completed.
Alberta’s Children’s Services Minister Mickey Amery said the province will be working with operators to finalize the details for opening up the remaining 21,000 private spaces.
“We believe parents should always be able to choose the type of childcare that best meets their needs, and that public funding for our childcare sector should be as inclusive as possible,” he said. Private operators account for more than 60 per cent of childcare spaces across the province.
The federal program aims to cut average fees across the country down to $10 a day by 2026, as well as create 42,500 not-for-profit spaces in Alberta. As of September, the province had a total of 112,000 spaces that were eligible for funding support.
Federal Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould said the province had already cut average fees in half under the program.
“Childcare is not just a social policy — it’s an economic policy too,” said Gould.
The latest announcement means a cost control framework and for-profit expansion plan will limit what operators can spend the federal cash on. The newly-released document outlines a general formula for both private and not-for-profit centres, but it doesn’t specify all eligible core childcare costs, nor what a “reasonable” profit and surplus might look like.
Gould said Tuesday it’s key to ensuring public dollars are going towards the public good, and that taxpayer money doesn’t become an investment vehicle for private investors.
“This framework will ensure costs and earnings of childcare businesses are reasonable and that surplus earnings are directed towards improving childcare services in the province,” she said.
When asked for specific examples of what spending will be eligible, Amery reiterated the deal is meant to direct money into improving and expanding childcare.
“What it wasn’t intended to do … was to allow for a private vehicle for personal use, other endeavours or investment in areas that are unrelated to childcare,” he said.
Krystal Churcher, chairwoman of the Alberta Association of Childcare Entrepreneurs, told Postmedia Tuesday she is grateful for Amery’s work and the inclusion of private operators in the deal, but noted the association has been asking for clear and transparent cost control rules.