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Florida’s VPK program experiencing enrollment declines for upcoming year

Keara McGraw

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TAMPA BAY, FL (February 2021) – Florida’s free Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK program is experiencing enrollment declines, concerning many Florida child care providers and advocates who are troubled what the long-term effects of COVID-19 will have on many young learners. The Early Learning Coalition’s VPK program prepares 4-year-olds for kindergarten by supporting the development of early literacy, executive functioning and social emotional skills. According to the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener, children who participate in VPK are better prepared for success in school.

“Children who start kindergarten behind struggle to catch up to their peers by third grade,” said Lindsay Carson, CEO of Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County. “Missing out on early learning can have a life-long impact.”

There is a decrease in VPK program enrollment in both Hillsborough County, down roughly 30%, and Pinellas County, down roughly 25%. The decline is causing some child care advocates to worry if young children will have the tools needed to be ready for kindergarten. “Missing VPK means children miss early learning instruction vital to the development of early literacy, pre-math and pre-reading skills needed for a successful transition to kindergarten.” said Abigail Perez, Director, Impact & Community Relations at the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. “We understand some parents’ hesitancy to enroll in VPK this year but we
remain hopeful that as conditions improve, enrollments will rise.”

Child care providers have been on the front lines working diligently to ensure Tampa Bay area families received continual care and maintained proper safety protocols for the children they serve. For many providers who have struggled to keep their doors open during the pandemic,
another low enrollment year could be a sharp blow to their financial strength. The Early Learning Coalition also offers the School Readiness program, which assists families in obtaining affordable, high-quality early learning and school-age care programs.

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