Florida Board of Education proposes pre-k improvements in wishful 2012-13 budget request
For years, advocates of Florida's voluntary prekindergarten system have pushed to improve the program by requiring providers to use a proven curriculum and to more thoroughly assess student learning to determine whether the preschools are successful.
The Florida Board of Education on Tuesday proposed putting $13 million toward such initiatives as part of its 2012-13 legislative budget request.
Board member Gary Chartrand suggested the move would add needed accountability to the voter-mandated prekindergarten program. Currently, providers are not required to use any specific curriculum unless they have repeated bad results. Children are not evaluated when they enter VPK to determine what they know, meanwhile, so there's little way to determine whether they've grown because of their program or simply began VPK already ready for kindergarten.
The state invests about $400 million on VPK each year, Chartrand said. "This request to have assessments and curriculum at 3 percent of our total makes a lot of sense."
Board member John Padget, who proposed the additional funding, stressed that all VPK providers should be allowed to use any of the state's 14 approved curricula. "We're not moving to a one size fits all," he said. See the DOE's proposed VPK improvement plan here.
The prekindergarten funding recommendation came as part of an overall proposal that would put $17.1 billion of state and local money into public education, up from $16.6 billion for 2011-12. The increase, including $117 more per student, would arise from a combination of growth in property values and a higher base student allocation from the state.
DOE officials warned the board that the economic forecasters have amended their financial predictions to be worse than expected even a few months ago. "The lead economic indicators have deteriorated," adviser John Newman said, noting that growth rates are now projected at 1.5 percent instead of 3.1 percent, for instance, and housing starts are expected to be significantly lower than once forecast.
Still, they suggested the legislative budget request should be manageable within the current economic condition.
Mindful of such restrictions, vice chairman Roberto Martinez made the motion to accept the LBR, saying that the board should continue to look for ways to increase funding -- particularly for community colleges -- over time as things improve.
The board will now forward its recommendations to the governor for his consideration in advance of the January legislative session. In the past, BOE budget requests have not made it through unchanged.