State official gushes over influx of federal early childhood funding in House committee talk

'They're doing that work that allows everything else to go forward.'

Matt Mears, the state’s Chancellor of Early Learning, was elated Wednesday afternoon when explaining that early childhood instructors received $166 million from Florida’s share of the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA).

Mears was speaking to the House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee, discussing how the Florida Division of Early Learning distributed the $635 million in CRRSA funding, which was allocated by the Legislature. When introducing himself, he smiled, saying the “presentation goes in the extra good news column.”

“They kept Florida work centers open, watching the children of first responders or nurses or physicians,” Mears said. “They’re doing that work that allows everything else to go forward. So this is really exciting now and here’s some other great news: Wave one went out over the summer.”

He was happy to share that 26% of the funding went to instructor disaster relief payments, which came in the form of two $1,000 checks written directly to child care instructors. In 2021, 76,005 Florida instructors received the emergency payments. The next window for payments started this January, and already, 71,000 Florida care instructors have applied for a second check.

“This is a picture of two early care and education professionals, and they are beaming, they have these huge smiles on their faces, and they’re holding envelopes that they know contain $1,000 checks,” Mears said, holding up pictures of instructors with their checks. “That’s what the Legislature has done by appropriating these funds for early care in education.”

About 62% of the CRRSA funding went to Phase V and VI grants, which were directed to early child care providers.

Individual Phase V grants range from $3,000 to $19,500. The first round of grants were awarded to 8,700 providers back in May, worth about $95 million. The total allocation for the Phase V grants is $120 million.

Phase VI grants were awarded more recently, in October, with about $134 million having been issued to date. Individual Phase VI grants range from $4,356 to $45,394, and workforce initiative grants range from $800 to $3,200. The Legislature allocated $275 million to Phase VI grants.

Mears also boasted testimony from providers who received the aid, including one provider who wrote in a letter that they were able to provide monthly bonuses to teachers after losing staff to nonchildcare companies because of hourly rates they couldn’t compete with.

“So this is again funds coming to someone trying to keep their workforce intact, having all kinds of competitive challenges in the marketplace with others and saying these dollars are the thing that made a difference,” Mears said.

The final of the four allocations — $43 million — went to early learning initiatives. The bulk of that — $36 million — went to workforce initiatives for early learning educators in order to recruit, improve skills and retain the early learning workforce. Nearly $5 million went to coalition program outreach, awareness and family support in order to raise awareness of early learning services and provide families and providers with resources to encourage early literacy activity. Finally, about $2 million was directed toward pre-K classrooms impacted by closures during the pandemic.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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