As the 2020 Legislative Session readies to kick off its third week, Rep. Vance Aloupis says issues surrounding early childhood education and environmental infrastructure are among his top priorities in the ensuing weeks.
Aloupis is navigating his second Session as a member of the Legislature after winning House District 115 in 2018.
It’s no surprise that early learning would be a legislative priority for Aloupis. He’s currently the Chief Executive Officer of The Children’s Movement, a 501(c)(3) organization aimed at making gains in early education.
“For the better part of 15 years, we have done really nothing around ensuring that there’s any quality in a $500 billion a year VPK program, a program that’s actually the largest voucher program in Florida,” Aloupis told Florida Politics.
“To me, if we’re spending $500 billion a year on pre-K, we sure as heck better make sure that it’s a high-quality program.”
VPK programs are currently evaluated through the STAR Early Literacy Assessment. Those programs are graded based on how many students pass a program’s exam.
But Aloupis said that test does not adequately consider a student’s starting point regarding his or her ability to learn.
“Nobody can tell me with any real fidelity if the program is working and which programs are serving children well,” Aloupis said.
“So Rep. Grall and I have worked all summer along with the Department of Education and stakeholders across the state to create an accountability system of pre-K that ensure that the children that we are providing a VPK voucher are going to [programs] that are actually getting them ready for kindergarten.”
A young child’s learning proficiency can be heavily influenced by their home situation. A pre-K child who makes gains in a program, but still fails the STAR assessment, will count against a VPK program even if those improvements were significant.
The measure would alter how those assessments are done. Rather than only test children after they’ve completed a VPK program, those kids would be screened both at the beginning and end of a program to measure a student’s progression.
Those scores would then be factored into a VPK program’s evaluation.
Grall offered a version of the legislation last Session, but it stalled in the committee process. Sen. Gayle Harrell — who worked on a Senate version of the bill last year — filed a companion measure.
Aloupis said his other priorities include dealing with the effects of sea level rise and other water issues South Florida.
“On the budget side, I’m carrying water appropriations for Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest,” Aloupis said.
His district covers parts of Miami-Dade County including Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay and South Miami.
“These have been constant issues for these municipalities so I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure that the state is being as supportive as it can in helping my community try to begin to fix a lot of the infrastructure issues we have in South Dade,” Aloupis said.
Aloupis is asking for nearly $680,000 in stormwater improvements for Palmetto Bay (HB 3461). Those upgrades include building additional catch basins and manholes to help manage flooding during storms.
The South Florida lawmaker also has a pair of water project requests for Pinecrest totaling $2 million.
In addition to a $500,000 request for stormwater improvements in Pinecrest (HB 3807), Aloupis is seeking another $1.5 million for a waterline extension project (HB 2905) to help ensure water is available for “approximately 740 well-dependent homes” in Pinecrest.
Aloupis has also partnered with Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez on legislation regulating local construction projects that utilize state money.
“It’s requiring municipalities to do a sea level impact projection (SLIP) as they build in coastal zones so they are actively and deliberately planning for what projected sea level rise could look like in coastal zones in Florida,” Aloupis said.
“I think my house is at nine feet above sea level. And at this point, you’re not seeing the flooding coming up over our front lawn. But in parts of the district, you’re absolutely seeing salt water get into the aquifer and ruining people’s access to drinkable water. So these are issues that we’re going to have to begin to acknowledge and address.”
Under Aloupis’ version, state-financed constructors would have to complete that SLIP study and submit it to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Those results must be published to the DEP’s website for at least 30 days before construction can begin.
“If we can ensure that our municipalities, when they’re using state funding to build, that they are being proactive in looking at what the long-term implications of sea level rise are going to be, that’s an important step for all of us here in South Florida.”