Highland has had to spend Pounds 45,000 upgrading primary schools in preparation for the nursery voucher scheme. The council is one of four piloting the initiative in Scotland and will be providing 70 new places in Badenoch and Strathspey and 155 new places in Caithness.
The council, along with 14 playgroups and one private nursery, will provide for 421 children. Peter Peacock, Highland's convener, said the investment amounted to Pounds 100 per child and suggested the bill should be sent to the Scottish Office.
Jack Findlay, head of school development services, told the education committee on Wednesday that without the council investment only half of the places on offer would have been available. Mr Findlay added: "It will be difficult to replicate that level of investment if the scheme goes nationwide in a year's time."
Val MacIver, the committee's convener, said it would be impossible to know how many children would be enrolled under the scheme until parents "go shopping next week". Mrs MacIver added: "It is a very, very odd way to run an education service."
Mr Findlay told councillors that the scheme had been successful in the two pilot areas with 91 per cent of four-year-olds being covered.