Policymakers push handful of bills to improve state pre-K

Policymakers push handful of bills to improve state pre-K

(Fla.) State lawmakers are pushing forward legislation aimed at improving Florida’s pre-Kindergarten program by, among other things, upgrading teacher training and methods for how student growth is assessed.

SB 1549, which gained approval from the Senate education committee Tuesday, would set student performance standards for early math and social-emotional skills, as well as expectations for teacher professional development and training.

The bill would also establish a system for assessing state pre-K programs that emphasizes teacher-child interactions and measuring student gains over the course of a year, rather than scoring providers based on children's scores on the kindergarten-entry screening. Critics of the current system have argued that screening is typically given several months after the end of the program–allowing too much time for student skills to become rusty.

An identical has been introduced in the House as well. Both bills call for a coordinated assessment system to track the progress of students in the state preschool program through second grade.

The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-profit that advocates for high-quality early learning opportunities, access to children’s health care, and parent support programs, said it was backing the pair of bills.

“We fully support HB 1193/SB 1594, which aims to ensure Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) programs are of the highest quality all across our state,” the organization recently tweeted. “Should this legislation be enacted, parents would have better information to help them choose a VPK program. We would also have some real data to show the impact of early learning on kindergarten readiness, and the difference greater investment could make.”

Meanwhile, a separate pair of identical bills has been introduced that aim to create flexible new professional development pathways for early childhood educators.

Those bills–HB 1027 and SB 1456–would include both formal and informal career pathways with stackable credentials and other certifications that legislative analysts said would allow early childhood teachers to access specialized professional development.

HB 1027 passed its first committee hearing last week with unanimous approval.

Florida lawmakers have ample reason to ensure their statewide pre-K programs are of the highest quality and that young children are in classrooms with certified, well-prepared teachers.

Research has long shown that participation in high-quality childcare or pre-K programs can have a number of positive benefits for children. In some studies, children enrolled in early learning childcare have demonstrated increased levels of academic achievement, cognitive and social-emotional development, and are better able to adjust to different social environments than their peers.

Others have found that children who participate for two years in high-quality preschool programs are less likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and require academic remediation or special education services.

On the other hand, participation in average or low-quality programs has been shown to have short-lived benefits or none at all.

In an effort to improve the quality of early education, state legislatures and university systems throughout the country have taken steps in recent years to increase state funding for preschool teacher training and provide scholarships for early childhood educators pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Many have introduced legislation to increase the number of pre-K slots available for low-income families.

This year alone, California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed close to $125 million to open up enough slots in the state’s preschool programs so that all eligible four-year-olds could participate. And Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed an allocation of $100 million more to the state’s Early Childhood Block Grant, which if approved would bring the state investment in early childhood education to $594 million next year.

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