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We’re moving in the right direction…

Because nearly all brain development occurs before age 5, early learning for our  children today determines who they become tomorrow.  Education of parents on the importance of early and frequent interaction with their child from birth, and quality interactions with teachers is key for all children.  As children reach 3 and 4 years of age, taking advantage of opportunities to prepare them for kindergarten becomes important.

Good news- pre-pandemic, the percentage of kids attending Florida’s free Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) in Hillsborough County and in the state of Florida stood at 75%, leading the nation in access to 4-year-old prekindergarten education (excepting Washington, DC).  Bad news- only 52% of children in Hillsborough and 57% statewide are assessed as being ready for kindergarten in the assessment given to every public-school kindergartner at the beginning of kindergarten.

Great news- the Florida Legislature took action last week to pass two important bills, HB 419 and HB 7011, which the Governor signed into law this week.  These bills are aimed at significantly improving kindergarten readiness, including provisions to seek out and provide supportsto children that need additional help.  The new legislation includes requirements for more training for VPK teachers, periodic classroom assessment, and financial incentives for high performing VPK programs.  The legislation also seeks to provide parents with added information to help them select an early learning provider.

Does this new legislation do everything needed to resolve the challenges that are faced in the predominately private system of early education and child care that we have in Hillsborough County and the state of Florida? – No – For instance, teachers should be compensated more and be even better educated and the VPK daily instruction period should be longer than three hours, just to name a few remaining challenges.  That said, this legislation represents a significant step forward and builds upon legislation passed in 2018 which started the implementation of statewide early education quality standards.  All families need equitable access to quality early education for educational outcomes to improve.  Working together to promote early learning in the first five years of our children’s lives will create a better future for all who live and work in Hillsborough County and our State.  The Governor and Legislature recognized this and took action.   It’s a great step forward.

Gordon L. Gillette
CEO, Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County