The Capitol is currently buzzing with committee meetings in preparation for Florida’s legislative session, which officially begins on January 14, 2020. The landscape is already promising for the early learning community. I applaud our legislators, especially members of the Florida Senate and House Education Committees, Commissioner Richard Corocan, and Governor Ron DeSantis, who are committed to improving early care and education.
We believe early childhood educators hold the keys to high-quality early learning experiences for young children. They help to prepare children for success in school and in life, but they are often underpaid and undervalued. They deserve a living wage with salaries and benefits that are equivalent to their K-12 counterparts. The Forum’s legislative agenda below was created with early childhood educators in mind:
- $10 million in funding for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program. This funding would provide approximately 7,000 scholarships for child care teachers to earn degrees or credentials in the early care and education field. T.E.A.C.H. is helping to increase the education, compensation, and retention of early childhood educators.
- $750,000 in funding for early learning coalitions to opt-in to Early Childhood Educator INCENTIVE$ Florida (formerly known as Child Care WAGE$®). Approximately 3,500 early childhood educators would be able to access financial incentives that are based on their level of education and continued employment.
- $4.5 million in funding for current Help Me Grow® Florida (HMG) affiliates and expand the program to additional counties. HMG provides developmental screenings, care coordination, and outreach to address health and behavioral concerns among children ages 0-8.
- Funding to establish an assessment system that adequately measures prekindergarten learning gains and readiness rates. We are thankful for the Governor’s approval to include pre and post VPK assessments to help determine kindergarten readiness rates.
The Forum also supports the following early learning initiatives:
- Florida’s School Readiness program that allows 211,677 children from low-income families to attend high-quality child care programs while allowing their families to be employed and working towards self-sufficiency.
- Observation and coaching services such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) that help to improve the quality of teacher-child interactions that are important to young children’s learning and development.
- The full implementation of Florida’s quality assurance system, which ensures that differential (extra or premium) payments and professional career pathways are available to early childhood educators. To date, 3,400 child care providers earned differential payments based on their CLASS score, and their employer received additional School Readiness reimbursement rates.
- Increased investments in the VPK Base Student Allocation, which would allow early childhood educators to afford the resources necessary for high-quality programming.
To establish a stable economy in the future, it is essential that we get it right from the start. Children who receive high-quality early learning experiences are more likely to read at grade level and graduate from high school. In addition, they are less likely to rely on government assistance. Effective school reform begins by recognizing the early years (birth to 5) as the most important years in laying the foundation for later success in school and life. As Lisa Brooks, a director of a child care program in Santa Rosa County, recently said, “We’re in the business of building the brain.” I can’t think of any business more important than that.
Phyllis Kalifeh, Ed.D.
President and CEO