Canada is doing more to invest in early childhood education than it was even a few years ago, but programs are spotty from province to province and there is lots of room for improvement, says a new report.

The "Early Years Study 3" report offers a look at the state of early childhood education in Canada. Released Tuesday, the report is meant to provide the scientific and economic rationale for provinces to invest more in early childhood education.

The report finds that Canada's provinces are spending over $7.5 billion on early education programs -- twice as much as they did in 2004, according to an assessment by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Economist Pierre Fortin of University of Quebec at Montreal, who is closely involved in the EYS3, says there is a good return on investment with that funding, because subsidized daycare programs allow thousands of Quebec women to be at work.

Across Canada, over 50 per cent of 2- to 4-year-olds now regularly attend a daycare program -- again, more than twice as many as the OECD found in 2004.

In addition, provinces are doing a better job of strengthening early education with better oversight, improved program quality and by addressing the low wages of early childhood educators.

Even though the federal government ended the national child care plan in 2007, the report found that the provinces are developing their own programs, one province at a time.

"Despite budget challenges, provinces have clearly prioritized the education and care of young children," the report says.

This year, the report created an index to examine whether public funding of early education is being spent effectively. It ranked provinces on such measures as access to daycare spaces, funding and oversight.

Three provinces passed the halfway mark on the Index's 15-point scale. Quebec, which has a subsidized daycare system, came first with 10 points. It was closely followed by Prince Edward Island with 9.5 and Manitoba with 7.5. The other provinces range between 1.5 and 6.5 points.

There is still work to be done to ensure early childhood educators are properly trained and paid and to ensure that more parents can access programs without sitting on waiting lists for years.

Kerry McCuaig, a fellow in early childhood policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education says that scores are a big improvement on what each province would have earned as recently as three years ago.