The Nova Scotia government has announced the additional 25 locations across the province that will open pre-primary programs for four-year-olds in September.
That will bring the total number to 43 locations operating 50 pre-primary classrooms — because some locations will offer more than one class.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Zach Churchill told reporters the sites were selected based on need in specific areas and space available.
"And we also tried to focus this round in areas where there aren't current providers delivering this service," Churchill said.
"This is going to help our children transition into an academic learning environment, it will help them socialize in that environment and we know that it will have outcomes that will impact their lives."
Staff yet to be hired
The early childhood educators who will teach these children have yet to be hired. They will be employees of the regional school boards across the province and each board will determine their salaries.
The new sites join the 18 pre-primary programs that already exist across the province. The program is free for all Nova Scotian children who turn four by Dec. 31, 2017.
The cost of the pre-primary program for this year will be $4.1 million, according to the province.
The education department hopes to increase the number of locations over the next four years, until it's available to all four-year-olds across Nova Scotia. By the fourth year, the annual estimated cost will reach $49.4 million.
Program not mandatory
The pre-primary classes will be offered during regular school hours. Parents will be responsible to get their children to and from class, even if that child has an older sibling at the school who takes the bus.
The program is not mandatory, but parents who want to enrol their children can begin registering them now by contacting the department.
Higher child-to-staff ratio
There will be one educator for every 10 children in the classroom, where there is a class of 20 children. If there are more than 20 children — up to a maximum of 24 — there will be three staff. That ratio is higher than what's allowed in licensed daycares, which are mandated by the department to have a one-to-eight ratio.
"This number is based on a national norm for pre-primary programming that's available in schools, so that's what we went with," Churchill said.
He said the department will be discussing ratios with daycare providers, some of whom want to make the one-to-10 ratio standard for all.
Child-care centres unhappy with changes
Bobbi-Lynn Keating is the executive director of Peter Green Hall Children's Centre in Halifax. Keating has worked at the centre for 24 years and calls what the department has done to early childhood education over the past three years "disturbing."
She accused the Liberal government of putting a "stranglehold" on early childhood education.
"Since that time, they have dictated to us what our parent fees are," Keating said. "We are only allowed to increase our parent fees one per cent a year, which doesn't even cover the cost of our milk and bread every year."
"They have demanded now that we pay our Level One, Level Two, Level Three [early childhood educators] a floor wage — so that's $15, $17 and $19 an hour. That alone has put many non-profit child-care centres in a situation where they may have to close."
Keating wonders whether the early childhood educators hired by the school boards will be paid more. She said one educator who has worked at her centre for 33 years makes less than $30,000 annually.
"And now, possibly in the school system, there's going to be a teacher that just walks in and maybe gets paid what $35,000-$40,000 a year?"
Keating says she has trouble hiring enough trained child-care workers so she wonders where the boards are going to find them for these new programs.
Plan 'lacking substance,' critic says
NDP education critic Claudia Chender, who has a four-year-old son, said she's concerned about the higher ratio allowed in the pre-primary program.
"It's not clear why that's not being rolled back into our non-profit and private child-care providers if that is, in fact, is a safe ratio and it's concerning."
She also raised concerns that the four-year-olds will be in schools that are attended by much older children and that the buildings were not designed for the younger age group.
Progressive Conservative education critic Tim Halman said the plan for this program lacks long-term vision.
"It's sad to see that they're not consulting, it's sad to see that they're not partnering with others to try to roll this out in an effective way," Halman said.
He's also concerned about the higher ratio and whether enough after-school care will be available for children in the pre-primary program.
"This plan is lacking substance
- Admiral Westphal Elementary School, Dartmouth
- Bayview Education Centre, Port Hood
- Bible Hill Central Elementary School, Truro
- Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy, Margaree Harbour Carleton Consolidated School, Carleton
- Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy, Guysborough
- Chester District Elementary School, Chester
- Clark Rutherford Elementary, Cornwallis Park
- Colby Village Elementary School, Dartmouth
- Cusack School, Sydney
- Dr. Arthur Hines Elementary School, Summerville
- Drumlin Heights Consolidated School, Glenwood
- Duncan Macmillan High School, Sheet Harbour
- East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy, Monastery
- Ecole Beau-Port, Arichat
- Fanning Education Centre/Canso Academy, Guysborough
- Felix Marchand Education Centre, Louisdale
- Glace Bay Elementary School, Glace Bay
- Harbour View Elementary School, Dartmouth
- Hilden Elementary School, Hilden
- Hillcrest Academy, Shelburne
- Hillside Park Elementary School, Lower Sackville
- Inverness Education Centre/Academy, Inverness
- Joseph Howe Elementary School, Halifax
- Jubilee Elementary School, Sydney Mines
- Junction Road Elementary School, Springhill
- Nelson Whynder Elementary School, North Preston
- New Germany Elementary, New Germany
- New Glasgow Academy, New Glasgow
- North River Elementary School, North River
- Oyster Pond Academy, Oyster Pond
- Port Maitland Consolidated School, Port Maitland
- Rockingstone Heights School, Halifax
- Shubenacadie District Elementary School, Shubenacadie
- South Woodside School, Dartmouth
- St. Mary's Education Centre/Academy, Sherbrooke
- St. Mary's Elementary School, Aylesford
- St. Stephen's Elementary School, Halifax
- Three Mile Plains District School, Windsor
- West Highlands Elementary School, Amherst
- West Northfield Elementary School, West Northfield
- Weymouth Consolidated School, Weymouth
- Yarmouth Central School, Yarmouth