Kindergarten readiness numbers show Florida’s VPK program needs accountability, too

preschool (Large)
We can do better. And we shouldn’t wait to try.

The clock is winding down on the 2021 Legislative Session.

There are more bills than time. Many of them will die and be eulogized with promises to return next year.

But there is at least one bill for which a promise isn’t good enough.

Sen. Gayle Harrell’s bill (SB 1282) to increase accountability within Florida’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program deserves to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes this year — not next.

Kicking the VPK accountability can down the road would cloud Florida’s workforce development visions. There’s no reason to lose a year’s worth of information on Florida’s VPK investment by putting this off.

The House realizes this, and has moved the companion bill (HB 419) by Rep. Erin Grall to the verge of passage.

Florida has been a leader in education accountability because our reforms measure real results and provide actionable information for policymakers. These bills would ensure the state continues to lead.

Voters have proven time and again that they value VPK accountability.

Nearly two decades ago Florida when reelected Gov. Jeb Bush in a landslide, voters — by an even wider margin — committed the state to providing every 4-year-old the opportunity to attend a high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

Florida taxpayers wisely invest $400 million a year in VPK services, providing early learning for around 175,000 children.

People like it. It’s good policy. And the services are greatly needed.

Florida’s 2020 Working Parent Survey from The Children’s Movement of Florida and Sachs Media Group found child care issues in general have impacted low-income parents’ ability to work.

The survey found 55% of parents with children eligible for Head Start or school readiness programs say they have had to quit a job to care for children, compared with 22% of those whose children are not eligible for these programs.

Another 40% of this low-income population say they were unable to complete schooling or training because of childcare issues, compared with 16% of those earning more.

Results-based budgeting is a conservative principle where performance on measurable outcomes inform decision making. This concept respects the free-market and provides information necessary to inform consumers as they make decisions, large and small.

Next year marks 20 years since voters chose VPK as state policy. How do we measure success?

Florida’s kindergarten readiness assessment for this school year (2020-2021) found 57% of our kindergarten students were “ready” to perform at grade level. That number jumped from 53% the previous year.

On top of the fact that more than 40% students start their K-12 career behind, they were asked to remember skills on an unfamiliar test a month into their kindergarten year, following a summer break.

The numbers expose a weak spot in education accountability that needs immediate attention.

Parents deserve the most accurate and comprehensive data possible when they choose a pre-kindergarten program for their child, and a clear understanding on whether a program successfully preps children for kindergarten is the most important data there is.

We can do better. And we shouldn’t wait to try.

Grall and Harrell’s well-reasoned bills would make common-sense changes and bring much-needed accountability to the state’s early learning programs and K-12 education systems, providing valuable information parents and policymakers need.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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