The Quebec government's plan to offer preschool to children from disadvantaged backgrounds is being criticized by the CPE daycares.

Education Minister Marie Malavoy announced the government would be introducing voluntary preschool classes for children from disadvantaged families. The program would be offered to 4-year-old children.

Malavoy said those children often lack the necessary stimulation needed to perform well in school.

On Thursday, the minister said parents with low incomes and little education often stay home with their children rather than sending them to daycare, subsequently impeding the level of stimulation their children receive.

The Quebec Association of CPE's, which oversees the operations of non-profit daycares, is arguing that children of that age do not belong in schools.

Gina Gasparrini, a spokeswoman for the association, said daycares have trained staff specializing in educating young children, whereas school teachers only spend seven per cent of their studies focusing on the same age group.

She said even if the province is taking a "gradual approach" and analyzing results as the program develops, it might be too late for some children to be stimulated enough to excel in school at an older age.

Malavoy said the program would be introduced in 69 English and French school boards across the province next year. Each board will have one class of 18 children.

"This new measure will serve as a pillar in the fight against drop-out rates by ensuring that students maintain the desire to learn for their entire lives," she said.

The minister said the children will be enrolled full-time.

"In a class where they...have exactly the kind of program they need, we think [the children] will be in a better position to begin school when it's the time to do it," said Malavoy.

The government's initiative is estimated to cost about $8.1 million for the first 1,200 children who will take part in the program.

Malavoy said the government is hoping to make it to nearly 8,000 students after the first year.

Language laws will apply to preschools

The education minister said the new preschools would have to adhere to Quebec's French-language charter.

Last February, Malavoy said preschools for disadvantaged children would be exempted from Bill 101.