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What we can learn from Canada’s universal child care model

February 6, 2019

On a chilly, Friday morning at New Horizon Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, a roomful of toddlers learns how to count and spell. For the spelling lesson, the teacher has given each child a dollop of shaving cream to dip their fingers in and “write” out words on the table. One girl proudly shows off the word, “boy,” as she wipes her hand on a bright red apron.

Every week, some 200 children come to New Horizon Academy. The center accepts infants to school-age children. Some of the families who drop off their kids here get some sort of government assistance or a scholarship to help with the $400 weekly fee.

That’s a pretty standard rate for child care in the US, but it’s a far cry from what these families would pay for day care in the Canadian province of Québec.

“Actually, it started 20 years ago at [$3.81] a day. It was increased in 2004 from [about $3] to [$5.33] a day. And now, middle-class families pay [$6] a day,” said Pierre Fortin. He’s a Canadian economist at the University of Québec at Montreal who applauds the universal, low-fee child care program. Since its creation two decades ago, the program has become a model for the rest of the world.

Families there pay about $6 per day. The total cost to Québec province: $1.52 billion. Fortin says it’s a lot of money, but it’s offset by something else. More working women.