by Janet Allen
The LWVAlachua education committee made visits to numerous child care centers in Alachua County that ranged from family centers to large commercial centers like O2B Kids and Baby Gator. We had the opportunity to talk to teachers and administrators as well as children. When we asked about current needs they were remarkably the same.
Our Florida legislature has a major bill (SPB 7006) to improve childcare standards, and the Governor’s budget includes funds to expand the Voluntary PreK program for four year olds. There are, however, many different types of childcare programs, and we are learning how their programs differ and what their challenges are to provide quality childcare.
The teachers we met mentioned the need for more parent involvement. Skills developed at school should be followed up at home. Teachers and administrators mentioned improved salaries to attract and keep better educated staff. More staff training is needed along with money for stipends for teachers who now must pay for training courses as well as their family expenses on Saturday and weekends.
We also met with staff from the Early Learning Coalition. Although their concerns were broader, they still noted many of the same needs. Two programs, supported by the coalition, are still in the development or pilot stage but need funding for full implementation. One is Early Learning which is being developed by the Lastinger Center at UF and the other is QRIS (Quality Rating Improvement System) a quality rating program.
Early Learning is a 10 hour online course covering subjects appropriate to preschools such as language development, social emotional skills and learning environment. Teachers can take courses entirely online, with a trained coach or with a community placement. Funding for the course is through the legislature and private sources. The governor’s 2015 budget includes $2 million for implementation of this program, but it must still be approved by the legislature.
QRIS is a voluntary rating program that would rate centers on factors such as teacher and student progress, environment and curriculum. Current Federal child care funding allows subsidized centers to use a tiered salary schedule but Florida has not adopted a state wide rating system. Some coalitions have developed their own QRIS which they then use in part to assess whether teachers should be offered better salaries for higher performance. Florida needs to pass legislation that would have a statewide quality plan to ensure that scarce resources are used wisely and effectively and parents can make informed decisions when choosing a center for their child.
The Governor’s budget increases the base allocation rate for the VPK (Voluntary Prekindergarten) , funds teacher training and development and other preschool initiatives. Now it is up to the legislature to pass these initiatives and assure that these early learners will enter our school systems ready and able to progress in their learning experience.