Nova Scotia's education minister admits he has a "very ambitious agenda" when it comes to rolling out new pre-primary programs in time for September, but Zach Churchill says he plans to make it happen.
The free program for four-year-olds was a major part of the Liberal campaign platform after being announced in the spring budget that was not passed before the election was declared. The Grits framed it as providing free access to quality child care while better preparing kids to enter elementary school.
The plan calls for pre-primary to be offered at 30 sites across Nova Scotia this fall. Within four years, the program would be available everywhere in the province at a cost projected at just shy of $50 million per year.
Trying to identify sites
Churchill said during an interview Wednesday his department has reached out to school boards to identify the areas with the greatest need for the service and where there's demand. There are already eight sites in various parts of the province.
"We're working with our superintendents on developing a list for sites that we can begin moving on in the fall," Churchill said.
He also addressed concerns from the public about how the plan could affect existing daycares.
Consulting daycares, parents
The minister said consultation would happen this summer with daycare operators, early child care providers and parents in an effort to have the best program possible.
"There's a lot that we can learn from those folks and we want to make sure that, at the end of the day, we have a good quality program that is safe and is doing what we intended to do — which is provide kids with skills that will help them enter into the academic setting a year later and hopefully achieve better outcomes in life."
Churchill said all early childhood educators working at the new sites would be paid at or above the new wage standards the government announced in 2016. He said other issues, such as student-educator ratios, are still being discussed.