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Low Kindergarten Readiness Rates – Opinion Editorial – 2.14.2022

Last week, the most recent kindergarten readiness rates were issued by the state of Florida.  Based on assessments of entering kindergarteners in September 2021 for Hillsborough County, kindergarten readiness was 48%, down from 52% last year. These are poor results, but there are reasons to be optimistic.

Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) attendance has been down almost 30% for the last couple of years during COVID, dropping participation into the 50% range. VPK is the state’s free pre-kindergarten education program, which, pre-COVID, 75% of four-year-old children were attending.

Children completing VPK traditionally score significantly higher on the assessment on average than children without VPK.  So, with increased attendance in VPK, as the pandemic hopefully wanes, the average score should come back, but we have a long way to go.

There are some reasons to be optimistic. At the state level, the VPK assessment standards and teacher training standards passed last year in House Bill 419 are starting to take effect. This year, there is a proposed historic 30% increase in funding for VPK by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At the local level, the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and Hillsborough County Public Schools are working together with local funders and partners to increase awareness of VPK, increase the number of early education providers offering VPK, help students transition from VPK to kindergarten, and improve kids social, emotional, and cultural readiness to start kindergarten.

So, despite the recent low kindergarten readiness numbers, there are reasons to be optimistic. Support for the Senate Budget proposal and continued local support is needed to keep up the momentum.