The National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) recently released the State of Preschool report (2016), which ranks states on the accessibility, funding, and quality benchmarks of their prekindergarten programs. For our great state of Florida, the report’s findings suggest we’re doing well in some areas, but need improvement in others.
The good news is that Florida is a national leader, ranking, 2nd out of 44 states, in accessibility by enrolling more than 76 percent of 4-year-olds. Our state-funded Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) program is available to all 4-year-olds regardless of income, and enrollment reflects parents’ motivation to start their children early on a path to success. However, the Sunshine State did not score well on high-quality child care standards, meeting just three of 10 benchmarks. In addition, Florida is one of six states where funding per child is less than $3,000; state spending per child was $2,353, an increase of $44 from what was reported in 2015
Although some of these findings are concerning, we have the capacity to set the tone as a national model for high-quality child care programs. The effort begins with child care professionals. Programs like the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships for early childhood educators to work towards earning a Florida Staff Credential, a Director Credential, renewals for each credential, and an Associate, Bachelor, or Master’s degree in early childhood education, are helping to increase the education, compensation and retention of the child care workforce. Funded by the Florida Office of Early Learning (OEL) and administered by the Children’s Forum, T.E.A.C.H:
- Covers tuition and books
- Provides a per-semester stipend for travel
- Offers bonuses for child care professionals who complete their scholarship contract(s)
T.E.A.C.H. scholars agree to commit to their employer for up to one year depending on their scholarship model. In addition, T.E.A.C.H. pays for the majority of expenses, but costs are shared by the childcare professional seeking a scholarship and his/her employer, creating a 3-way partnership which helps teachers reach their highest level of effectiveness. That’s good for child care programs, good for children, and good for families.
Almost 45,000 T.E.A.C.H. scholarships have been awarded since 1998. Moreover, the turnover rate for these T.E.A.C.H. program participants is less than 6 percent – a testament to the success of this program considering the national child care turnover rate is 30-40 percent.
In addition to T.E.A.C.H., OEL has established other professional development opportunities to improve quality in child care classrooms. These initiatives include an interactive online resource with information about core competencies and tools to build their skill sets. There are also a number of online courses available to early childhood educators designed to increase their knowledge and instructional strategies to promote healthy child development and learning.
“We understand that professional development programs and workforce initiatives for early learning practitioners cost money, but the long-term economic and social gains in children are well worth the investment,” said Phyllis Kalifeh, President and CEO of the Children’s Forum.