MIAMI (CBS4) – Children’s advocates in Florida are ramping up their calls for cuts to early childhood education and daycare programs to be reversed. The budget approved by the legislature reduces funding to the Voluntary Pre-K and School Readiness programs by nearly $90 million.
In a column published in the Miami Herald Thursday, Maria Alonso of The Children’s Trust and Octavio Verdeja, Jr. of the Early Learning Coalition, called the cuts “shortsighted and ill-advised.”
The School Readiness program provides instruction and daycare to children whose parents are at or near the poverty line. The children’s advocates say the cuts to the program could leave 15,000 children statewide – and nearly 5,000 in Miami-Dade County – home alone this September.
“This vital program helps cover childcare costs and allows parents to seek work or maintain their jobs while their children learn,” said Alonso and Verdeja.
At the Four Seasons hotel in Miami Thursday, former Governor Jeb Bush, who championed early childhood education during his administration, said the Pre-K program is a “valuable tool” that allows children to, “prepare for school and to learn to read.”
Bush seemed surprised to learn of the cuts to the children’s programs.
“I hope that if there are these cuts that they can be re-funded with a little bit of economic growth, which is what we desperately need in Florida,” Bush told CBS4’s Gary Nelson.
Bush was the headliner at an education forum at the ritzy Miami hotel where patrons sipped champagne and some paid hundreds of dollars a plate to benefit a charter high school on the Gulf coast, the Marco Island Academy. Marco Island Academy Chairman Jane Watt decried the cuts to the programs for young children.
“There is a lot of research that supports the fact that during their beginning years, especially ages three to five, it’s incredibly important that they’re getting adequate skills,” Watt said. “These programs are very, very good. I have a four year-old who has been in the Pre-K program, and it’s phenomenal. I think it’s unfortunate that cutbacks are going to take place.”
Some in the predominantly conservative crowd at the Four Seasons believed the conservative legislature went too far in cutting education.
Paul Meyer of Marco Island, who attended with his three young daughters, said all his daughters had been through the Pre-K program and it was “invaluable” to them.
“It needs to stay in place,” Meyer said. “I don’t know how or why they’re making these cuts. Education is where everything starts,”
Rep. Kelli Stargell, a Republican from Polk County, said the legislature had to make some “painful” decisions.
“We’re going to hopefully get past this soon, and get the economy going in a positive direction, and get these kids back into the programs again as soon as possible,” Stargell said.
But children’s advocates say the state must re-order its priorities now and do what has to be done to adequately fund early childhood education and support low-income working parents.
Alonso said she had urged Governor Scott to find a way to restore the programs, “so that these children can have that subsidized after-school child care, so their parents can go to work, and so that we can get them prepared to compete in the work force later on.”