Pre-K Deal in the Florida Legislature

The House and Senate have different views on how tough the requirements should be, and many still fear the final result won't meet the high standards voters wanted.

Chris Burtoch has spent 30 years in early childhood development. She's worried one of the free pre-kindergarten plans being hashed out at the capitol only requires children to be in class for three hours a day or a two-month summer program, not nearly enough in her opinion to prepare them for kindergarten.

“They need to be able to practice how to get along with others, how to share, how to speak to others, how to problem solve,” says Chris.

But putting together a statewide pre-k program everyone can agree on is turning out to be much harder than it sounds. The fear is Florida will end up with glorified babysitting instead of a quality program.

Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings thinks the proposal moving through the House of Representatives wouldn't provide the quality voters demanded and kids deserve.

“The House bill has absolutely no credentialing of the individual who works with the child, has no standards, has no minimum requirements of any kind,” says Jennings.

But Rep. Bev Kilmer, who's helping draft the House bill, says the final version will have many of the same requirements as the tougher Senate bill Gov. Jeb Bush supports.

“I guess that's the point I want to make. We are so close to where they are already. We just did not put the dynamics of getting there in our first draft and I think that's what's got everyone confused,” Kilmer says.

After a month of bickering, child care providers hope Kilmer's right. They're counting on the governor to veto anything less. Free pre-kindergarten programs have to be in place and available for four-year-olds by September of 2005.

Lawmakers believe there are already enough existing public and private programs statewide to absorb the estimated 70 to 90,000 children who will be eligible.


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