Florida grew its pre-kindergarten program by $12.9 million in FY11, joining the majority of states nationwide in showing bipartisan support for early learning investments, according to an analysis released today by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States. Total pre-k investments for all states came in at $5.4 billion, increasing slightly, by just over 1 percent.
The program serves more than two-thirds of Florida’s four year olds, but it remains one of the lowest-quality programs in the country.
"Florida’s pre-k program serves a large number of children, which is significant, but state leaders have continued to ignore the quality components we know make a good program and which are crucial to ensuring children enter kindergarten ready to learn," said Pegeen Hanrahan, former mayor of Gainesville. “By increasing access without also improving quality, state lawmakers have not done enough to ensure Florida’s kids are prepared to succeed in school.”
In August, Florida was one of nine states and the District awarded the Race to the Top competitive grant. With an infusion of federal money, newly elected policy makers are poised to make significant improvements in program quality. Florida’s Race to the Top grant is structured to bolster the quality of its early education program as part of a larger reform effort aimed at improving student achievement and lowering high school dropout rates.
“Under the state’s approved Race to the Top application, districts with low-performing high schools will be required to use the funds to implement high-quality pre-k programs,” said Marci Young, director of Pre-K Now. “If these model programs succeed, it will provide more evidence for policy makers to increase program quality throughout the state.”
The nonpartisan annual report, “Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2011,” reviewed action on publicly funded pre-k programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine which legislatures count voluntary, high-quality pre-k among their top education reform strategies.
“To ensure Florida’s workforce is equipped to meet the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy, education needs to begin before kindergarten and continue through the highest levels of education,” said Carol Jenkins Barnett, chairman and president of Publix Super Markets Charities. “By focusing on improving program quality, Florida can continue to strengthen a robust workforce development program.”
Research shows that high-quality pre-k helps narrow the achievement gap, reduces grade repetition and special education placements, increases high school graduation rates, reduces crime and delinquency and leads to greater employment and higher earnings as adults.