House and Senate budget negotiations have taken a frustrating turn with funding for VPK.
While there is a lot of good stuff in the Early Education budget, such as a $5 million increase in School Readiness funding and a School Readiness Provider performance fund that could set up a system for raising quality standards, a small base allocation increase was what the VPK provider community was most focused on.
And that doesn’t seem to be happening.
Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s active support for a $108 per student allocation increase, and the House pushing for the same, the Senate doesn’t look like it will budget in opposition. See for yourself on line 46b of the fifth page.
The current Senate offer does not include a base increase for VPK, and in doing so, represents an effective decrease in the overall total going to Early Learning.
The case for increasing VPK funding is clear. While Florida ranks first in access for prekindergarten in the nation, the National Institute for Early Education Research ranks Florida’s VPK Program 35th among 38 states in per pupil funding, which is $2,383 for the current year. In addition to the benefit to hardworking parents, there are more than 5,000 small and large private businesses that provide VPK programs annually to more than 174,000 children statewide.
The approximate $17 million increase that would fund this program more adequately is a drop in the proverbial bucket — especially considering that the legislature is contemplating spending $10 million on a bungee jumping building in Miami.