Responding to the unanimous request of Florida’s 31 early learning coalitions, Gov. Rick Scott Friday announced that recent controversial changes to the funding formula for the state’s subsidized school readiness programs would be frozen and reviewed, reports Margie Menzel of the News Service of Florida.
In a letter to Roseann Fricks, chair of the Association of Early Learning Coalitions, Scott said he had asked the state Office of Early Learning to establish a work group of lawmakers, coalitions, child care providers and local governments to “gather input and refine a funding formula” by January 1, 2014.
“A quality early learning system is critical to providing Florida children the tools they need to succeed,” Scott wrote.
OEL Director Mel Jurado resigned the day before Scott’s announcement, but OEL Director of Governmental Relations Allen Mortham said he was unaware of a connection between the two events.
The governor was responding to an uproar that ensued when, in late June, OEL notified the coalitions that their funding would change on July 1, less than a week later. Some coalitions would get more money, others less. The changes blind-sided not only the coalitions but their local legislative delegations.
“It’s a win for the families. It’s a win for the providers,” said a jubilant Evelio Torres, director of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, on Friday. That coalition lost $3.7 million this year and stood to lose $22.3 million more over the next five years. “That is the right way to do this…to ensure that we end up with a formula that takes into consideration everyone at the table.”
Torres praised Scott for “tremendous leadership.”
Early learning guru David Lawrence, who was copied on Scott’s letter, agreed.
“I think the governor is right on target – in promising a fair process as well as underscoring how critical high-quality early learning is to the future of children and of Florida. The wisest course Florida could possibly take is to help parents help their children have the best possible chance to succeed in school and in life.”
The Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend lost more $650,000 this year. Its board chair, Bryan Desloge, president of the Florida Association of Counties, also applauded the governor’s move.
“This is an important issue and a purposeful conversation needs to occur between all the stakeholders before additional changes occur,” Desloge said.
The early learning system connects low-income working families with subsidized child care that, in turn, promotes school readiness. Florida has 68,000 children waiting for services.
Early learning issues roiled the 2012 legislative session, which saw a clash between those who wanted to loosen the standards for providers and those who argued for higher quality child care.
After a scathing report by the Auditor General’s Office, four lawmakers proposed early learning measures and a compromise bill was hammered out and passed.
Scott vetoed the measure, saying the state could implement the changes by rule. Among them was an equity funding formula.
The school readiness programs represent a billion-dollar industry. They are widely expected to be the focus of a renewed battle during next year’s session.