Although it may sound different, especially after reading some legislative updates from interest groups out of Tallahassee, Pre-K funding has stalled for the third year in a row, according to a new, credible media report. Looking at the numbers, The Children’s Campaign agrees.
Here’s why: According to an analysis completed by Orlando Sentinel reporter Leslie Postal, Florida’s $2,437 per-pupil funding for Pre-K in 2016 is actually the same amount per-child as provided in the state budgets for 2014 and 2015. It’s also $63 less per-student than what was funded in the 2005 – 2006 school year, and only roughly half the national average.
Although not an apples-to-apples comparison because Pre-K is a half-day program, Florida’s K-12 per-student funding for 2016 is $7,178 distributed through the state’s funding formula, the Florida Education Finance Program. The total $20.2 billion sum is made up of $11.3 billion in state funds and $8.9 billion in local dollars, and represents a $458 million increase (roughly 2.3%) over current funding.
“Although the total dollars for Pre-K funding may appear that more has been allocated, the bottom line includes increases which are constitutionally mandated due to the projected rise in enrollment,” stated Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign. “Doing what the law requires is not really a cause for celebration.”
Brain Science Proves Importance of Early Years
Numerous research studies have shown that much of what children need to succeed in life is established before they enter kindergarten. Approximately 90% of children’s brain growth occurs during the first five years of life. High quality early learning experiences have been proven to set the foundation for a child’s lifelong success.
In an April 6th article, The Washington Post wrote: “The paradox of American child care continues to perplex parents. It’s increasingly expensive for young families nationwide, devouring mortgage-sized shares of household income, even while child care workers remain among the country’s lowest-paid workers. The consequences: Top-notch programs are available to those who can afford the tuition, once they get off the waiting lists—and everyone else is left gambling on quality, even safety.”
K-12 School Reform More Costly
Although Florida may be lagging behind, many states have already made the connection that reform efforts in K–12 are sometimes too little, too late. Education gaps tend to be much more costly and difficult to close as children advance through elementary, middle, and high school. This realization has caused several states to try to get it right from the start by expanding their financial investments in pre-kindergarten.
“The irony is we end up paying even more by failing to demand quality early childhood education,” noted Miller. “Florida students in all grades, not just preschool, will not be well served by test after test and reform after reform until the quality in early learning settings is improved.”
Some benefits are realized right away, but the majority of benefits, from reduced crime to higher high school graduation rates and earnings, accrue later in life. According to the HighScope Perry Preschool Study, which tracked the lives of 123 young children born into poverty, kids from disadvantaged homes have even more to gain from early education, and long-term outcomes suggest that the largest gains were realized when children were in their late 20s.
While 40 states and the District of Columbia have state-sponsored preschool programs, Georgia and Oklahoma are often considered models for the rest of the country for high-quality preschool education with broad access.
Teacher Qualifications are Essential
Yet, there is a direct correlation between teacher credentials and child outcomes. According to the Center for Public Education, among states with Pre-K programs, 25 require teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree (Florida is not one of these states). Thirty-five also require teachers to have specialized training in Pre-K or early childhood.
Increasing literacy and high school graduation rates among Florida students begins with closing the gaps before they enter kindergarten. Better quality preschool programs will require increased standards and a true funding increase to give all children a better chance of not just being school ready, but career ready.
According to the 2015 National Institute for Early Education Research, which conducts an annual, state-by-state survey of preschool access and quality, Florida’s per-pupil funding at the preschool level is alarmingly low, ranking at 36th out of 41 states. In addition, Florida’s voluntary state-funded Pre-K program only meets three of 10 national quality standards.
As told by the Orlando Sentinel, “We’re paid less than we were in 2005 when it first started,” said Mata Dennis, executive director of the Orlando Day Nursery, which has 32 students in its state-funded Pre-K program. “It affects the quality. It affects the quality of the teachers you hire,” she said.
“It’s not what the voters wanted,” she added.
No matter how much we’d like for it to be different, nothing is gained by not acknowledging the true story about Pre-K funding in Florida. The Orlando Sentinel deserves recognition for telling it like it is.
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This Top Story brought to you by Linda Alexionok, Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey