Florida’s early learning programs garner bipartisan support in budget

Children friendship concept with happy girl kids in the park having fun sitting under tree shade playing together enjoying good memory and moment of student lifestyle with friends in school time day
The 2022 session was, indeed, a huge bipartisan victory for Florida’s future: its children.

They always say it’s “about the children,” and this year that proved to be entirely true.

Florida’s early learning programs, which establish the foundation for so much that follows, received a significant bump in the budget agreed to by the House and Senate. It has been a while since the Legislature fully recognized the multiple challenges associated with early learning — and then took decisive action to address them.

There should be little argument that kids exposed to early learning are more likely to succeed in school, and in life. The pandemic disrupted the reliable outlet that early learning programs created for working parents with young children. Now that many of those parents are returning to office settings, they’re finding that large numbers of educators have left the learning centers, creating critical staffing shortages.

Enter the Florida Legislature. Not known these days for bipartisanship, lawmakers nonetheless came together to support early childhood learning. Conservatives appreciate these programs as an important facet of parental choice, while moderates know they make it possible for low-income parents to work.

United in this common interest, lawmakers made strategic new investments that will help stabilize the early learning workforce, expand access to high-quality programs, and support parent choice at the foundation of Florida education system. Among this year’s accomplishments:

— The base student allocation for VPK was increased by $317 per child, bringing it to the highest level in the program’s history and giving centers the resources to hire quality staff to work with Florida’s next generation.

— On top of that, in keeping with Senate President Wilton Simpson’s push to get ahead of the minimum wage increase, $100 million of federal dollars is being directed to support per-child supplements for any VPK provider whose staff is all making at least $15 an hour.

— The budget includes $156 million more for the School Readiness program, which provides subsidized, educational child care for working parents.

— The budget reflects much of the intent of Rep. Erin Grall’s HB 1199, which had numerous co-sponsors from both parties and passed the House unanimously. The measure sought to better align funding with the high cost of child care by raising payment rates across the state, allow for higher teacher salaries and recruitment of additional high-quality providers to increase parent choice, and distribute funding more equitably across the state.

When early learning centers can’t hire educators and child care staff or offer competitive wages, it’s impossible for them to meet the needs of working parents. This year, the Legislature recognized this need and dealt with it.

The 2022 Session was, indeed, a huge bipartisan victory for Florida’s future: its children.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


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