The Phoenix Flyer

FL’s Pre-K program has high participation but may not always prepare kids for kindergarten

By: - July 26, 2019 2:40 pm
From Children's Movement of Florida's website

From Children’s Movement of Florida’s website

Of the 50 states, Florida’s prekindergarten program has the highest percent of 4-year-olds enrolled in the early learning programs. Only Washington D.C. has a higher percentage.

Nearly 175,000 little students attended in 2017-18 — 77 percent of Florida’s 4-year-olds. That’s according to a 2018 analysis called “The State of Preschool 2018.”

The data comes from the National Institute for Early Education Research, part of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

But the report also raised concerns about Florida’s state-funded Pre-K programs.

“While Florida’s program reaches more than three-quarters of 4-year-olds, resources are limited as the state spends only $2,177 per child with no reported additional local or federal preschool spending,” the report states.

The $2,177 figure is lower than the vast majority of states that have Pre-K programs, behind only Mississippi, Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota, the study says. The average state funding per child across the country was $5,175 in 2017-18.

Early childhood education is important because it’s a precursor to kindergarten, and high-quality Pre-K can jump start students’ vocabularies, prepare kids to be able to read and develop other academic and and social skills.

In Florida’s there’s been concern about whether the Pre-K programs have been preparing 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

A little over a half of kindergarten students tested have been considered ready for kindergarten, according to fall 2018 data from the Florida Department of Education.

That’s based on the state’s early literacy exam that assesses kindergarten readiness. The test is taken during the first 30 days of the new school year.

Of 185,252 students taking the test, 97,652 passed, or 53 percent. That means 47 percent didn’t pass, indicating those children weren’t prepared for kindergarten.

In districts across the state, kindergarten students did best on the readiness test in St. Johns, Glades, Sumter, Gulf, Pinellas and Santa Rosa, all posting passing rates of 60 percent or higher.

The lowest passing rates – below 40 percent – were in DeSoto, Hamilton, Okeechobee, Hardee, Jefferson and Calhoun counties.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.