Coalition Beating the Drum for Tougher Pre-K Standards

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This upcoming election will mark two years since voters approved a free, pre-kindergarten program for all Florida four-year-olds.

State lawmakers’ first effort went down in flames when the governor vetoed a bill he didn’t think contained enough quality control. Now, parents and teachers are hoping the second attempt will honor the voters’ wishes.

Sahira Norwood has a two-year-old daughter and she wants high standards for Florida’s new pre-kindergarten program. She was disappointed in lawmakers’ first attempt and says the children deserve better.

“They need that foundation and this is a very critical part of their life and to have quality education will help build their foundation for later on in life,” says Norwood.

A group of child advocates and educators is releasing a list of must-haves they want lawmakers to include in the new bill. Included on their wish list are a one to 10 ratio of students to teachers, teachers with college degrees, a choice of a three-hour or six-hour class day and accountability measures.

Roy Miller represents the Children’s Campaign and says, “Three million voters in Florida said let’s do it. It’s up to our policy makers to do it now, but you’re going to have to help push them to make that a reality in the state of Florida.”

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed last session’s pre-k bill because he was concerned it didn’t contain enough quality control measures. He says he’ll bring lawmakers back to approve a new bill in a special session in December, but only if the quality is there.

But it’s a balancing act. The governor recognizes many people want small class sizes, six-hour days and credentialed teachers.

“Compared to the concerns of a lot of private providers and the legislature about cost, so we’re trying to thread the needle and find that middle ground,” says Gov. Bush.

The pre-k program is scheduled to start in less than a year, but fulfilling the voters’ wishes is still far from a done deal.

Child advocacy groups plan to hang banners around the state for parents to sign, asking lawmakers to approve only a high quality pre-kindergarten program. The groups will then send the banners to the legislature.