Pre-K Predicament

Chris Duggan heads a coalition of preschool providers, and her phone’s been ringing off the hook. Parents are burying her with questions about the state’s new free pre-kindergarten program.

Chris says, "They want to know: ‘when do I register?’ I want to register right now. Their other question is: ‘my childcare provider wants me to register my four-year-old for the regular four-year-old program. Do I do that or do I wait?’ "

But no one has all the answers yet. The state is taking applications from parents and from providers interested in being part of the pre-k program starting February 1.

But the “UPK Florida Website” won’t have the applications on until the first, and parents might not know until may which pre-ks will be available.

Many of the reasons for all the unanswered questions for parents and providers go back to the Legislature. Lawmakers didn’t even agree on how to put the pre-k program together until last month. Now the state is scrambling to figure out who many children will enroll and where to put them all.

Gladys Wilson is the new director of Florida’s pre-k program and says, "We’re now looking at just under six months to do all of this and there are still some things that haven’t been decided, so we’re just doing the very best we can do with the information we have."

For now, parents are advised to fill out a pre-k application, but go ahead and plan to send your child to the school of your choice.

You may end up having to wait until the summer of 2006 to take advantage of the free program. That’s when school districts will have to have their intensive summer programs up and running.