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Palm Coast Monday, Feb. 21, 2022 9 months ago

Florida Senate budget includes historic funding increase for VPK program

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Local Early Learning Coalition applauds state senators for their support of early learning.
by: Guest Writer

from: Florida Office of Early Learning

The Florida Senate’s proposed budget released Feb. 3 includes almost $400 million in additional funding for Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program over the next three years, with a focus on increasing wages for the state’s early learning teachers.

This funding, which would increase per-student per school year funding from $2,486 to $3,294, would represent the largest increase in the program’s history through an $808 supplemental payment to increase VPK teacher pay to a minimum of $15 per hour.

Florida was one of the first states in the country to offer free prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds regardless of family income. Since the program began in 2005-06, more than 2.5 million children have benefited from VPK. Children who attend VPK consistently score the highest on kindergarten readiness tests.

The Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia Counties commends Florida senators for their commitment to supporting early learning and the teachers who prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.

"The fact that VPK funding levels are lower now than when the program was initiated 17 years ago, is sad,” said John Birney, ELCFV’s Interim Board Chair. “Although it has taken way too long, this increase in funding for children in VPK will prove to be a game-changer."

The VPK program began when a 2002 constitutional ballot initiative was approved by Florida voters; the minimum wage increase was also adopted by voters and is now part of Florida’s Constitution. The Senate’s proposal will help to lift all VPK teachers to at least $15 an hour, a significant boost from the current statewide average salary of around $12.50 an hour.

Four providers in Volusia and Flagler counties said they have already had to increase their teachers pay to at least $15 per hour to retain them. The increase in VPK funding will help get their budgets back in balance without increasing fees they charge families.

Marie Thurston, of Kid City USA, a franchise with 47 Florida locations most of which offer VPK, said, “We see this as a win for all VPK providers in Florida.” 

Dmitriy Shevchenko of Sunshine Academy, a VPK provider in Flagler County said, “This increase is a big first step towards adequate funding that supports quality instruction and programming and will be a welcome relief to Early Learning Programs that provide VPK.”

The Early Learning Coalition of Flagler and Volusia provides financial assistance for childcare to families. It also administers the Flagler and Volusia VPK programs to more than 3,792 students, in partnership with approximately 209 VPK providers. For more information on registering for VPK or other available programs and services, please visit www.elcfv.org or call (386) 323-2400.

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