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Quebec's bargain day care a hit with parents, educators

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Ten hours of high-quality day care for $5 - or US$3 - a day, no matter how much you earn.

That's the bottom line for parents in a bold initiative by the Quebec government intended to help them balance work and family life - and to invest in the futures of young children.

"It's the single biggest change a government has ever made in my life," says Franois Lapalme, at the Kateri I Early Childhood Center here to pick up his son, Jrmy. Mr. Lapalme, a trader for Scotiabank, adds, "The $5-a-day program has made a huge difference - I used to pay $500 a month, and now it's $125."

At a time when "throwing money at problems" has largely fallen out of favor across the ideological spectrum, Quebec has just about doubled day-care spending.

The program, just now being fully phased in to cover children two and under, has won acclaim and envy from parents, educators, and economists across this country.

"The government of Quebec has chosen a direction that our research is pointing to," says Jocelyne Tougas, one of the five authors of a newly released study of child care in Canada, called "You Bet I Care," conducted under the aegis of the Centre for Families, Work, and Well-Being at the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

"I'm in touch with many groups across Canada," says Nicole Boily, president of the Consultative Council for Family and Child Welfare in Quebec City. "And when they find out what we have in Quebec, they all want to have it where they are, too."

Teachers' pay increases

Perhaps one of the most radical elements of the policy has been the decision to raise the pay of day-care teachers by 35 to 40 percent. This move, coming at a time when the average day-care teacher earns only slightly more than the average parking-lot attendant (C$22,717 vs. $21,038), has drawn particular praise from the authors of the Guelph study.

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