CAQ government moves to offer pre-K classes across province
Promise was key plank in François Legault's election campaign
Quebec Premier François Legault is pledging to make pre-kindergarten available to four-year-olds across the province within the next five years, despite concerns from school boards about the strain the added classes would put on the education system.
Legault said the proposed changes would bring Quebec in line with Ontario and New York and "most of the places in Europe," where school begins at age four. He acknowledged that the change was controversial but said it was the right thing to do.
"For me, it makes sense that if we bring children in school earlier, especially the ones having learning difficulties, that it will help them," Legault said Thursday in announcing the commitment in a Quebec City classroom, alongside Education Minister Jean-François Roberge.
"We have to think about what's the best for our children."
The Coalition Avenir Québec tabled legislation earlier in the day to amend the province's Education Act to ensure "all children having reached four years of age will be entitled to preschool education services," regardless of the "economic area that they live in."
As it stands, pre-K classes are available only in schools in areas that qualify as low-income.
If passed, Bill 5 would also require the service to be offered by "all school boards according to the general framework provided for in the Education Act."
Private schools will also be able to offer the pre-K service under the proposed changes.
Quebec Premier François Legault points out that Ontario offers kindergarten to four-year-olds as he announces his pre-K plan <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/polqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#polqc</a> <a href="https://t.co/q4hfoIROtQ">pic.twitter.com/q4hfoIROtQ</a>—@CBCMontreal
The CAQ isn't listening, opponents say
The pledge to expand pre-K was a key plank in the CAQ's election campaign, but school boards have argued universal pre-kindergarten would be costly and difficult to implement.
The Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), the province's largest school board, is among those that have expressed concern about the proposal.
We are creating a parallel system that in the end won't necessarily be helpful for children.- Marie-Claude Lemieux, Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance
The CSDM, which is already facing a staffing shortage, would require 475 additional classrooms — the equivalent of 23 new schools — to introduce pre-K across its network, according to Radio-Canada.
Marwah Rizqy, the Liberal Party's education critic, said Thursday the CAQ's proposal doesn't address a pressing need.
The government "is more intent on fulfilling their promise than listening to their network," she said.
Legault has stressed that pre-K won't be compulsory and that the public daycare system will continue to play an important role in the province.
He pegged the plan's annual price tag at between $400 million and $700 million a year. Legault said further details would be included in the CAQ's budget, expected in early spring.
Marie-Claude Lemieux, director of public affairs at the Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance, which represents the publicly subsidized daycare network, said the association is concerned children, particularly those with special needs, won't always get the attention they need in pre-K.
Currently, the educator-to-child ratio is one-to-10 for four-year-olds in a CPE, and one-to-17 in a kindergarten classroom.
"We are creating a parallel system that in the end won't necessarily be helpful for children," she said.
With files from Verity Stevenson