Hundreds more classrooms would be needed to fulfill CAQ's 'almost impossible' pre-K plan
English-language school boards say they'd need 10 times current number of pre-K classes
Quebec school boards will need to find thousands of additional classrooms if the Coalition Avenir Québec government moves forward on its promise to extend kindergarten to four-year-olds, according to Radio-Canada's calculations.
Premier François Legault made the pledge a key plank in his party's campaign, but school boards say it would be costly and difficult to implement.
"I love huge challenges. It's a motivation for me and my government," said Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge on CBC Montreal's Homerun.
He said that despite the tough road ahead, Quebec parents will be better off with the choice between daycare and pre-K — where there are services for children for special needs.
"Education is a top priority for the CAQ since the beginning," he said. "We will never cut on education, and we will never cut on learning disability services."
However, Quebec's school administrators says more resources are needed to make good on the CAQ's promise.
"In just four years, it [would be] almost impossible," said Catherine Harel Bourdon, chair of the Commission Scolaire de Montréal, the province's largest school board.
According to Radio-Canada, the CSDM, which is already facing a staffing shortage, would require 475 additional classrooms — the equivalent of 23 new schools.
"We do not have the land, we don't have the classes, and we do not have the staff," Harel Bourdon said.
In the English-language sector, an estimated 450 new classes would be needed across the province to accommodate the influx of students, said the executive director of the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), Russell Copeman.
There are currently about 45 pre-K classes across the network's nine school boards.
"It's going to be a huge challenge," said Copeman. "We believe there is value to pre-K or [kindergarten] for four-year-olds, under the right conditions."
Those conditions, he said, are adequate funding, availability of enough teachers, and the development of a program suitable for all of the province's four-year-olds.
West-end Montreal's English schools already full
English-language schools in western Montreal neighbourhoods such as Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal West and Côte Saint-Luc are already at their capacity — so much so, said the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), that a new school is being planned for NDG to meet growing demand.
EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen said that while "it would be fantastic" for the province's less-populated schools to get a boost in enrolment, there could be difficulties if the boards do not have a say over where these new pre-K classes would go.
"We don't know where we would put these kids. So there would have to be a plan," said Cohen.
He says he wants to hear more details from the government, but he noted that it has been difficult in recent years for the board to find new teachers.
QESBA has put in a request for a joint meeting with its French-language counterpart, the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec, and government officials to discuss the details of the pre-K program.
More resources needed
At Montreal's Commission Scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 300 additional classrooms — the equivalent of roughly 15 additional schools — would be required, while the Pointe-de-l'Île board on the island's east end would need 130 additional classes.
The situation is similar north and south of Montreal, where school boards are also wondering how they would be able to make the plan work.
The Commission scolaire de Laval (CSDL) would need 272 additional classes, the equivalent of 10 to 13 new schools.
The CSDL estimates it would cost nearly $285 million to acquire land, build schools and hire staff.
Louise Lortie, chair of the Commission scolaire de Laval, estimated it would cost $285 million to acquire the land, build the schools and hire the staff.
Legault says pre-K would free up daycare spots
During the campaign, Legault estimated the program would cost $311 million annually and could begin as early as 2019.
He said the new program would free up 50,000 public daycare spots.
Legault, however, hasn't made the campaign pledge a focus since winning the election.
At his post-victory news conference, Legault said improving Quebec's schools is one of his government's top priorities. But he made no mention of the pre-K plan in his opening remarks.
"I want to put in place a plan to renovate our schools quickly," he said.
"So we can offer our children beautiful schools as soon as possible."
With files from CBC's Homerun, reporter Steve Rukavina and Radio-Canada's Jean-Philippe Robillard