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Issue 5 | February 16, 2016 

Top News: Early Learning Budget and Policy Priorities Advance
Senate Education Appropriations Chair Don Gaetz (R-Destin) presents his committee's Education budget on the Senate floor.
House Education Appropriations Chair Erik Fresen (R-Miami) presents his committee's Education budget on the House floor.

This issue of the Gazette is devoted to a mid-session update on Early Learning. In both the House and Senate, the total proposed Education budget is $20.3 billion, of which slightly more than $1 billion is for Early Learning. Key early learning programs include: Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK), School Readiness, T.E.A.C.H. and 'Help Me Grow'. The goal of Florida's early learning programs is to ensure that all young children get the support they need and are ready to be successful in school. Read more about these programs below.
School Readiness / CCDBG
Florida Assoc. Early Learning Coalitions Exec. Dir. Alisa Ghazvini
Florida Office of Early Learning Director Rodney MacKinnon

There are about 1.3 million children under age 6 in Florida; almost half of them live in low-income families. The School Readiness program supports childcare for about 223,000 of these children; over 50,000 more are on the statewide waiting list. There are nearly 10,000 private School Readiness providers. However, low reimbursement rates make program quality unaffordable for most of them.

The majority of School Readiness program funds - more than $273 million - come from the federal government through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which was reauthorized by Congress in 2014.
Florida law now must be revised to reflect changes required by the new CCDBG. CS/HB 7053, which passed the full House last week, implements the required changes and gives the Office of Early Learning rulemaking authority to develop quality standards. The Senate companion bills (SB 7058 and SB 1166) will be heard in Appropriations this week.
The House budget includes a $10 million increase for School Readiness; the Senate budget includes a $5 million increase. Both of these proposals fall far short of the amount needed (estimated at $85 million) to improve program quality statewide and serve all the eligible children.
Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK)
Children's Movement of Florida Chair David Lawrence Jr. celebrates VPK's 10th anniversary at the Capitol

Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) is Florida's constitutionally-mandated early learning program for all 4 year-olds. The program is funded entirely from state General Revenue ($389 million last year). At $2,438 per child for a half-day program, Florida's VPK program remains seriously underfunded, compromising program quality. The House early learning budget includes a small VPK per-child increase ($37/child), while the Senate budget does not include this increase.

VPK facts:
  • Close to 80% of 4-year-olds in Florida are enrolled in VPK, the highest access rate in the nation.
  • In 2011-12, 79 percent of children who finished VPK were ready for kindergarten, while only 55 percent of children who didn't go to VPK were kindergarten ready.
  • New VPK standards require that 70 percent of children who attend be ready for kindergarten, based on a standardized assessment.
CS/CS/HB 7021 Reading Instruction would require VPK providers to provide specialized reading instruction to children who are deficient in emergent literacy skills. The House bill is on the floor for a final vote; the companion Senate bill (SB 1068) is waiting to be heard in its last committee.
TEACH and Help Me Grow
Children's Forum CEO Phyllis Kalifeh (left) and children's advocate Fely Curva
Children's Movement of Florida State Director Vance Aloupis

The T.E.A.C.H. (Teacher Education And Compensation Helps) program provides scholarships to early learning teachers, so they can improve their qualifications. Unfortunately, many teachers in Florida's VPK and early earning programs are under-qualified. The industry is characterized by low wages and high turnover. On average, T.E.A.C.H. scholarship recipients increase their compensation by 10% and staff turnover in participating programs is 6% (compared to a national rate of 30-40%). The House budget includes a one-time $7 million increase to provide additional T.E.A.C.H. scholarships; the Senate budget remains flat at $3 million.  Read more about T.E.A.C.H. impact.

Early detection and intervention are critical for optimal outcomes for young children, but too often parents and caregivers miss this opportunity. Help Me Grow - Florida (HMG) addresses this by building collaboration among community programs, providing a centralized access point for information and referral, promoting surveillance and screenings, as well as educating and informing the community. There are currently seven established HMG affiliates serving 21 counties across the state. The House has maintained flat funding of $1.9 million for the program, but the Senate has reduced its funding allocation to just $100,000, not enough to sustain the program. Read more about Help Me Grow impact.
Bills to Watch This Week
SB 408 Juvenile Civil Citations (Altman, R-Cape Canaveral) Requires, rather than authorizes, a law enforcement officer to issue a civil citation or require participation in a similar diversion program if the officer does not issue a warning or inform a child's guardian or parent of the infraction; requires a law enforcement officer to receive approval from a supervisor before arresting a child for a first-time misdemeanor.
SB 750 Temporary Cash Assistance (Hutson, R-Palm Coast and Bean, R-Jacksonville) Adds a requirement of proof of application for employment to eligibility requirements for receiving services or temporary cash assistance; decreases the lifetime cumulative total time limit for which an applicant or current participant may receive temporary cash assistance; adds proof of application for employment to the work activity requirements for a participant in the temporary cash assistance program; requires income of undocumented immigrant family members to be included in calculating Temporary Cash Assistance Program benefits.
CS/CS/HB 1125 Eligibility for Employment as Childcare Personnel (McBurney, R-Jacksonville and Kerner, D-Palm Springs) Prohibits DCF from granting to certain individuals exemptions from disqualification from employment as child care personnel; disqualifies certain individuals from such employment regardless of prior exemption.
CS/HB 1235 Housing Assistance (Miller, R-Orlando and Brodeur, R-Sanford) Provides duties of State Office on Homelessness; directs State Office on Homelessness to create task force to make recommendations regarding implementation of statewide Homeless Management Information System; revises grant award requirements; revises requirements for local homeless assistance continuum of care plan; provides requirements for Rapid ReHousing.
SB 7058 Child Care and Development Block Grant Program (Education, PreK-12) Provides an exception from a prohibition against the use of information in the Department of Children and Families central abuse hotline for employment screening of certain child care personnel; revises the definition of the term "screening" for purposes of child care licensing requirements; requires the Department of Children and Families and local licensing agencies to electronically post certain information relating to child care and school readiness providers; revises the prioritization of participation in school readiness programs.
Quick Links
Questions or Comments?
Contact Ted Granger, United Way of Florida, or Jess Scher, United Way of Miami-Dade.