Get Pre-K Right with Higher Standards and More Money

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Teachers and child advocates say they hope this is the year Florida finally gets Pre-K right. Critics say the program that provides free pre-kindergarten classes to every four-year-old falls far short of the funding and high standards the kids deserve. Some lawmakers say it’s time to put the governor in the hot seat.

These children are not just pounding nails. They’re learning about measuring and developing hand-eye coordination in a high quality Pre-K program.

Preschool Director Pam Phelps had wanted to see all Florida’s four-year-olds have access to quality Pre-K programs. But she says she’s frustrated that nearly five years after voters demanded it, the state’s version doesn’t measure up. “We’re not going to create school-ready children in a 3-hour-a day, partial year program,” she says.

Part of the problem is money. Florida spends about $2500 dollars per student on the program, which is $1000 dollars less per kid than the national average.

Critics of the state’s Pre-K program also say it’s been mired in bureaucracy. Three separate state agencies all run different parts of the program.

Senator Nan Rich is sponsoring a bill that would put the entire Pre-K program under the governor’s office. She thinks funding and quality would improve if the buck stopped at the top. Her bill would also require at least one teacher per class to have a bachelor’s degree by the year 2013. “We’re not talking about babysitting,” she said. “We’re not talking about - we’re talking about a year’s worth of education and we need to have someone that’s qualified.”

The stakes have never been higher. Nearly half the state’s four-year-olds are now enrolled in Florida’s Pre-K program. They’ll be taking the FCAT in just four years.