Make early childhood education a priority when books balanced, TD report urges

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TORONTO - A new report suggests governments need to be spending more money on early childhood education.

But the TD Economics analysis also notes that since most governments are struggling to balance the books, that investment might not come for a while.

The report explores the benefits of the education kids get before starting school.

It concludes that every dollar invested can provide three times the returns, and the children aren't the only ones who benefit.

The report says early learning also helps the economy, because it allows parents to join the workforce after parental leave and before a child starts full-time school.

It also found Canada's government spending on education before primary school pales in comparison with other European and English-speaking countries.

And it's uneven across Canada, with spending lowest in Nunavut and highest in Quebec.

Altogether, provincial and territorial governments spent $7.5 billion on the sector in 2011, and the federal government spend $1.2 billion plus another $2.5 billion through tax credits.

TD economist Craig Alexander says while steps have been taken to improve the education system across the country, it's clear there is demand for more.

"The challenge is that governments are currently facing deficits and have made commitments to rebalance their finances," Alexander said.

"It's extraordinarily difficult to go to government today and ask them to launch large-scale new financial programs."

It would take between $3 billion and $4 billion just to bring Canada in line with the average of OECD countries when it comes to spending on early childhood education, he added.

"I don't think in the current environment, that is a reasonable ask."

But as government allocate resources going forward, Alexander said they should consider adding more to early childhood education spending, especially once their books are in order.