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Pre-K Funding Shortage

February 4th, 2010 by flanews

Floridas voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program is becoming a victim of its own success. Enrollment has soared, but state funding isnt keeping up with the growing demand. As Whitney Ray tells us, the program is already eight million dollars short this year and additional budget cuts could set it back even more.

These kids are getting a jump start on their education. Nat (01:08:32) Developing skills theyll use the rest of their lives.

140 thousand Florida students are enrolled in the states voluntary pre-kindergarten program, and the number is growing.

This is where we go ahead and start getting the foundation laid for positive learning habits so they are ready for the Florida elementary system, said Jennifer Kiester, co-owner of Scottsdale Academy in Tallahassee.

There are nearly 6,000 schools offering voluntary pre-k services in Florida. The classes are free for four year olds, but not to the state which is struggling to find funds.

The programs already barrowing eight million dollar from next years budget, which will making finding the cash all the more difficult. Lawmakers may cut per student funding to help fill a three billion dollar budget gap.

Funding per child is going to go down because its free and they are just figuring it out and they are starting to come out of the bushes and out of the hinterland, said State Senator Stephen Wise.

The Early Learning Coalition says if funding is cut some providers may decide to stop administering the program.

We are asking providers to do the same amount of work and meet the same standards all of those things for less money. I think that is going to be challenging, said Chris Duggan, the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend.

90 percent of a childs brain develops before they reach five, which means a burden on the Pre-K program could result in a less productive workforce down the line.

Kids wouldnt be the only casualty of a budget shortfall, Pre-K providers may be forced to layoff teachers to make ends meet if the funding is cut, which could force hundreds more onto the unemployment rolls.

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