Shannon Crews is thrilled her four-year-old daughter will go to pre-kindergarten classes this fall at a local museum. The museum is one of the providers signed up for Florida’s new pre-k program.
Crews says the fact that the state is covering the $2,500 cost makes a big difference for her family and thousands of others.
“Certainly it helps us and it was something we had to budget, and it was a maybe-maybe not all along, but for some people I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an option,” she says.
But free pre-k won’t be an option for many families who don’t live near an approved provider. While less than half the 145,000 children expected have signed up so far, only 1,500 providers have been approved.
Roy Miller with the Florida Children’s Campaign says lawmakers had plenty of warning that $2,500 per-student would not attract enough qualified providers.
Roy says, “We’re less than six weeks out; parents need to know where their child’s going to go, so I think it’s a very distressing performance based on the fact that we had three and a half years to get ready for this program.”
But the state says more pre-k providers are coming online every day, and they insist they’ll be ready for the first crop of students next month.
Nearly 2,000 providers are awaiting state approval, and Director of the State Office of Early Learning Gladys Wilson says there should be enough space for kids who’ve signed up.
Gladys says, “We think there will be. They may not be the providers parents necessarily had hoped to participate with, but we do believe we’ll have the numbers.”
Youngsters who don’t get in will have to wait until next summer when every school district will be offering pre-k.
The state says parents who haven’t registered their children for pre-k yet are encouraged to do so as soon as possible, even if they already pre-registered.