Early Learning and Child Care Advocates Target Florida Legislature For More Money
FlaglerLive | February 12, 2015
Providers of Florida’s early-education programs have joined forces with children’s advocates to “speak with one voice” at the state Capitol in an effort to get lawmakers to see the value of their programs — and, ultimately, to fund them better.
In Tallahassee this week for a series of meetings with legislative leaders, a group — led by former Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff — pitched its agenda for the upcoming session, including higher health and safety standards for providers, better training for teachers and new money to cut the waiting list of 63,000 children for slots in the school-readiness program, which provides subsidized child care to low-income working families.
The Early Learning Consortium met with Republican leaders such as Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Don Gaetz, House Education Chairwoman Marlene O’Toole and House Education Appropriations Chairman Erik Fresen.
They also met with Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Mia Jones, sponsors of a proposal (SB 518 and HB 483) that would revise the way kindergarten readiness is assessed in the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program.
Gaetz cautioned the consortium members that lawmakers want hard data on performance outcomes before boosting funding.
“It’s not going to be enough to hug a child and say, ‘We’re for children,’ ” Gaetz said. “It’s going to be about return on investment. … It’s going to be a competitive session.”
Knowing that, industry groups such as the Florida Association for Child Care Management and the Florida Association for the Education of Young Children joined the Children’s Movement of Florida, the Children’s Forum and the state Association of Early Learning Coalitions to make their case.
“When we come to the Legislature, we’re all going to be on the same page,” said Bogdanoff, who is executive director of the Florida Association for Child Care Management.
O’Toole is leading the House effort to pass higher health, safety and education standards for providers — for a second year. A similar bill died in the waning hours of the 2014 legislative session when it returned from the Senate with a number of amendments that O’Toole didn’t consider germane.
This year, she told the consortium, the House and Senate have the same bill. Last month, the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee unanimously passed a measure (SPB 7006) that raises standards in voluntary pre-kindergarten and school-readiness programs. And on Wednesday, the House draft of the companion bill got a hearing in O’Toole’s committee. She said she expected the panel to vote on it next week.
The bill would require child-care personnel to be at least 18 years old and have high-school diplomas if they’re responsible for supervising children. It would also upgrade safety standards by requiring providers to conduct employment-history checks before employing staff and to be trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. And it would require providers who are cited for serious violations to notify parents and conspicuously post the citations on the premises.
“There are times when we may have to go into a center and shut it down that day,” O’Toole said.
Some consortium members said they’re encouraged that there is more legislative focus on their cause.
“There is actually a really good interest in early learning,” said Brittany Birken, executive director of the Florida Children’s Services Council. “There is a lot of opportunity for us to work with members who are starting to become very well-versed in the importance of the early learning years and the opportunities for increasing investments.”
Birken said lawmakers have been getting the message that early education helps children perform better later on.
Fresen said he’ll push for more early-learning money when he knows the size of the education budget.
“I do think we’re going to see an increase,” he said.
Bogdanoff, however, said there’s more convincing to do. She recounted her conversation with a lawmaker the day before who thought early education was a simple policy discussion.
“It’s morphed into something so much more, and it is highly complex,” Bogdanoff said. “We are probably as highly regulated as the insurance industry and the gaming industry because we have so many people who are looking at us.”
–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida