If you compare kindergarten readiness for the lowest income groups to the highest, there is a full standard deviation difference. I wondered how many children were in the lowest groups, and how much money it would take to improve preschool education.
In Florida, 24% of children live in poverty (below $23,624 for a family of four}; This amounts to almost one million children. Of these, 351,272 are under age six.
About 77% of all Florida’s four year old children attend free voluntary prekindergarten (VPK). This is about 160,000 students, and the cost is nearly $400 million. Governor Scott wanted that much in tax breaks for corporations last year.
Of those children who attended VPK, 82% achieved kindergarten readiness compared to 52% of children who did not attend VPK. There is a two fold challenge for four year old children. First, is to enroll lower income children in full day preschool. VPK pays for about three hours per day. While many of these children may also attend daycare in the afternoons, the quality standards of these daycare programs are much lower.
In this political environment that values more service for less cost, significant quality improvements are hard to come by. It may be possible, however, to expand VPK to a full day program for low income students. This would be a fraction of the current cost. Would it be too much to expect a half day quality preschool program for low income three year old children?
Check the graph below. The differences are real and compelling. Note that the graph shows the achievement gap between the second lowest socio-economic group (low-middle) and the highest group. We can do better.