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Statewide Advocacy Efforts Lead to Big Wins to Strengthen Florida’s Early Childhood System

Alliance allies at The Children’s Movement of Florida have been focused on advocating for increased quality and accountability in the state’s universal Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program (VPK), which provides three hours of educational care for 4-and 5-year-olds. The state’s subsidized child care program, School Readiness, supplements VPK so children enrolled have access to full-day care. The VPK program serves approximately 170,000 children per year, but only meets 2 out of 10 NIEER Benchmarks for quality standards. The Children’s Movement collaborated with stakeholders and legislative champions in Florida to align performance metrics and improve standards in the state-funded programs. These efforts recently led to wins such as the signing of House Bill 419 – Early Learning and Early Grade Success and new budget language that requires the Office of Early Learning to coordinate with stakeholders before spending emergency relief funding.

Advocacy efforts led to unanimous bipartisan support for the legislation in both the House and Senate chambers.

The Early Learning and Early Grade Success Act creates a Division of Early Learning under the Florida Department of Education. The new Division of Early Learning will oversee the state’s School Readiness and VPK programs while aligning standards and goals with the K-12 system. The bill creates a provision for longitudinal data collection between pre-k–3rd grade, which will provide crucial information to assist teachers, parents, and policymakers. A Council for Early Grade Success, made up of stakeholders and experts, will be responsible for reviewing longitudinal data and making recommendations to support early learning and literacy goals looking ahead to 3rd grade. As far as VPK accountability, the bill recognizes the importance of socio-emotional development and includes a research-based teacher-child interaction tool, combined with measures of child learning gains and child achievement. With a new, robust VPK performance metric, this win will allow parents to make informed choices for their child’s early learning needs.

“Florida’s youngest children and their parents are big winners with this legislation to enhance Florida’s VPK program and put a greater value on early learning,” said Madeleine Thakur, president of The Children’s Movement of Florida.

“We uplift the lives of all Floridians when we measure what matters and equip parents with the tools necessary to make the best choices for their child’s learning needs.”

Madeleine Thakur, President
The Children’s Movement of Florida

In addition to the significant changes in the state’s early childhood system, Florida gained additional budgetary wins including:

  • $2,000 bonuses for early learning and child care and teachers with support from federal relief dollars
  • $50 million to increase provider reimbursement rates in the School Readiness program with support from federal relief dollars
  • $12 million increase to the School Readiness program to serve an additional 2,000 students currently on the waitlist allocated from federal child care relief funds
  • $240 million to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months or 365 days from federal and state funds
  • $1.8 million allocated to continue the Help Me Grow Florida network from general state funds
  • $22 million increase to the statewide Healthy Start program from general state funds

Although it was a big year for Florida’s early care and education system, our allies faced a few losses. The Children’s Movement advocated for an increase in eligibility for the state’s children’s health insurance program for uninsured children from 200% to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level and outreach funding to increase enrollment and access, neither of which ultimately passed.

“We made some great progress this year, but there is so much more to do. Next session we’ll look to make progress on early learning educator compensation and try again to increase health care access for more Florida children,” says Madeleine Thakur.

Florida continues to make strides to improve the state’s early childhood system. These investments coupled with longitudinal data will elevate the importance of a quality early childhood infrastructure and parental support and choice.

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