P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says his government hopes to launch a new half-day, public pre-kindergarten program in the fall of 2020.
The promise of the optional program for four-year-old Island children was a key component of the education platform the PCs put forward during the 2019 election campaign.
"There's a lot of questions that we have to still work out, but our goal would be to have that functional by September 2020," said King.
Officials with the province said 75 per cent of Island children already attend an early childhood program. There are also a dozen early childhood centres that already offer their own standalone pre-K programs.
"So how can we take what is there, improve upon it, [and] encourage others to participate?" said King.
According to the PC platform, the new pre-kindergarten program would be offered out of existing early years centres, not out of schools.
No charge to families
King said the new program will be offered at no charge to Island families — meaning families who would otherwise pay for a full day of care for their four-year-old would have half paid by the province.
That's very ambitious. — Karla Bernard, Opposition education critic
"So we would be picking up the morning portion of that, similar to what would have been done when kindergarten was implemented [in 2010]," King said.
In the party's platform, the PC commitment for a pre-kindergarten program was costed at $5 million.
Would follow existing curriculum
The Department of Education and Early Learning provided some further information on the plan for pre-K:
Early years centres would follow the existing provincial early years curriculum, although there could be changes in how that's delivered.
There would be no class size caps, but the existing educator-child ratio of 1 to 10 would have to be maintained.
The program would be delivered by existing early childhood educators, but more would have to be hired as new spaces for children are created.
The Official Opposition has already questioned the plan to introduce a public pre-kindergarten program based on what the Green Party said is a lack of early childhood educators and a high turnover rate resulting from chronically low wages.
Increase wages, Opposition says
"That's very ambitious," said Opposition education critic Karla Bernard, on government's plan to introduce pre-K less than a year from now.
"Our early childhood education system is having such a hard time holding onto workers, because their pay is not livable, they can't live off their pay. I hear from many early childhood [centres] who are in a panic over this because they can't hold onto their workers."
Bernard said the PC pre-K plan is not going to help the system and could further burden it.
On April 1 wages for early childhood educators increased between $1 and $3 an hour. Wages for the lowest level of certified staff now start at $14.48, topping out at $16.05 after five years of employment.
For early childhood educators with a two-year diploma, wages start at $18.61 and top out at $20.56.
That pay scale is in effect at licensed early years centres in the province. Private child-care centres that aren't part of the early years system aren't required to pay those wages.
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