Improving Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten in Florida
In 2002, voters passed a constitutional amendment to offer free, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs to every 4-year-old in Florida. More than 170,000 children now participate in VPK, costing about $400 million annually. VPK was started with a tight timetable and limited budget, resulting in Florida ranking 39th out of 41 states in pupil funding. While Florida has a solid foundation, enhancements to the current model -- which covers only three class hours per day -- would help the state more fully deliver on the promise of a high-quality preschool education.
Economic analyses highlight both short- and long-term financial benefits of investments in high-quality preschool programs – documenting that investment pays for itself many times over. However, state funding today is actually less than the $2,500-per-child allocation when VPK began 10 years ago.
Expanding early learning initiatives would provide benefits to society of roughly $8.60 for every $1 spent, about half of which comes from increased earnings for children when they grow up, according to a recent analysis by the President's Council of Economic Advisers.
With 90 percent of brain development occurring during the first five years of life, early learning experiences set the foundation for lifelong success. Experts report that children who participate in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to exhibit self-control, have better social skills, and be less disruptive in the classroom.
Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in economics from the University of Chicago, sums up decades of research on fostering human capital as follows: “The real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: Invest in the very young.”
Floridians recognized the value of early investment when they voted for VPK in 2002. To fulfill the promise of that decision, the state must increase funding; the accountability system must be revised; and the data management system must be completed. By phasing in these recommendations over time, Florida can ensure young children start school better prepared for success.