Yes I Can is beginning to feel like the provincial government is saying, No You Can’t.
The Bedford Park nursery school, which draws from across midtown, has seen $150,000 in funding axed from its budget, as a changing of the guard saw a change in attitude.
Executive director Janet MacDougall seats herself into her office chair, exasperation hidden beneath a stoic face.
For three years, the school received $150,000 for operating costs. This ended after an extension continued it through to August. That money covered the rent, insurance, snacks and new toys for 120 kids, 50 of whom cover the spectrum of autism. Admittedly, the Ministry of Education called the funding, renewed three times by Yes I Can, a one-time deal. They requested the preschool to draw up a transitional plan.
“I chose to decline their offer to prepare a transition plan,” MacDougall said. “For me, it was operational dollars, so really what I would be doing is a wind-down plan.”
Unfortunately, the $150,000 wasn’t enough.
In June 2015, then assistant deputy education minister Jim Grieve, offered to hold a summit in the fall to tie up loose ends and make sure Yes I Can received the funding it required. However, he left the post, and the province is asking MacDougall to get funding from Toronto.
“This is a shock,” she said. “Since 2005, when Kathleen Wynne started advocating for us, nobody ever said go to the city.”
The city has frozen family subsidies for day cares.
Turning away kids with autism
“The City of Toronto has available childcare spaces, and I’m turning away three to five kids with autism away a week because the families need fee assistance, and there’s a freeze,” MacDougall said. “It’s a bit of a mess.”
One family, the von Boths, had discovered Yes I Can after enrolling their son Conrad, who is diagnosed with Moderate-Severe Autism Spectrum Disorder, in a Leaside preschool. They wrote a letter to Progressive Conservative party leader Patrick Brown, underscoring the necessity of the preschool.
“After only two weeks did we know we had made a mistake. Conrad was not included and was left to play with the same toy over and over,” they wrote.
“He was the only child that never once was able to try painting, all the while the other children were being sent home with their lovely artwork that they had proudly made.”
It’s not just the autism programs that will be affected.
Yes I Can offers an Before and After the Bell programs serves over 30 kids from local schools, Bedford Park Public School, John Fisher Junior Public School, John Wanless Junior Public School and Blessed Sacrament Catholic School.
What’s the worst case scenario? McDougall clicks her tongue and admits it’s a sticky wicket.
“I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole,” she said. “I am hopeful the provincial government will come back to the table.”
In the meantime, Yes I Can has a GoFundMe campaign available through their Facebook page and website.
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