Concerns Over Pre-K Program

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Patti Kilgore oversees a church school that will participate in Florida’s free pre-kindergarten program this fall.

She felt strongly that she should open her doors so parents who otherwise couldn’t afford to would be able to give their kids a head start on their education.

Patti says, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them this one year with these vouchers. It's just been a huge, huge blessing for many, many parents who would not normally even get to do this."

Kilgore’s program charges less than many half-day pre-ks, so she was able to make it work with the state’s $2,500 per pupil vouchers, but thousands of other pre-k providers around the state say $2,500 per kid won’t cut it.

So far more than 38,000 children are signed up to participate in universal pre-k, but less than 3,000 providers are on board. Florida is expected to have at least five billion extra dollars this year because of the state’s booming economy.

Child advocates and some lawmakers say some of the cash should go to pump up the pre-k program.

Rep. Curtis Richardson, (D) Tallahassee, says, "Because we’ve got the money. It might be understandable if we were in a situation where we didn’t have the funds to fund the program, but we do."

Education budget co-chair David Rivera agrees pre-k is a priority, but he’s non-committal about additional money.

Rep. David Rivera, (R) Miami, says, "There’s a possibility more money might go into every project in the budget. To be frank, we don’t exactly know what’s going to get more money and what won’t get more money until the final weeks of the Legislature."

But without more dollars, there may not be enough seats for the thousands of little kids whose parents were counting on the state to keep its promise.

Both the House and Senate have already approved their versions of the state budget, so any additional spending will have to be worked out in negotiations between the chambers.

Gov. Jeb Bush will have to sign off on the final budget.