New Improvements for Florida Pre-K

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Nearly three million Floridians supported a free universal pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds. This spring, Gov. Bush vetoed a pre-k bill offered by the legislature and now the clock is ticking to get it done in time for the 2005 school year.

Each month more than 2,700 children gain a successful step up at the Leon School Readiness Coalition, which educators, local leaders and law enforcement say is vital to a successful community.

Tallahassee Police Chief Walt McNeil says a blaring example of the need for quality pre-k is the recent arrest of an eight-year-old child.

"We recently had circumstances where we have to arrest an eight-year-old child in community. Those circumstances should have never existed where we would arrest an eight-year-old."

In 2002, roughly 2.8 million Florida voters showed support for a free pre-k program and lawmakers drafted a bill that critics argue amounted to day care.

Harvey Bennett of Florida Taxwatch says, "High cost limitations in staffing and facility and likelihood of seats being taken by kids who could afford to pay for pre-k made it unlikely at-risk kids would be served."

Gov. Bush vetoed the bill, and now pre-k promoters want the legislature to revisit the idea, laying out five essential elements of a high quality pre-k program; small ratios, educated teachers, unified educational system, parental choice and accountability measures.

Willett E. Wilkerson, a teacher at Woodville Elementary School says, "The foundation is preschool and it needs to be solid and in order to have solid foundation we need to have quality these are the things that make quality for quality preschool."

A special session could be called in December to readdress the universal pre-k program.