Pre-k enrollment up, but still not universal
Okay, okay. We know the state dropped the "universal" from the program's name to signify that families don't have to send their 4-year-olds to school.
Still, when voters cast ballots in 2002, they approved "Voluntary Universal Prekindergarten Education" with the idea that all 4-year-olds would have "voluntary, high quality, free" pre-k available to them. Since then, participation has risen, but it has yet to come close to everyone.
The state reports that through September, only slightly more than half of Florida's eligible 4-year-olds -- 121,259 of 234,186 -- had enrolled in the school-year VPK for 2008-09. That's up 11 percent from a year earlier, when 109,257 took the 520 hours of instruction, but still short of the 150,000 kids the state expected might come the first year, back in 2005.
Locally, enrollment rose by 16 percent in Hernando, 26 percent in Hillsborough, 21 percent in Pasco and 9 percent in Pinellas, according to state records. Participation rates were 76 percent for Hernando, 50 percent for Hillsborough, 69 percent for Pasco and 54 percent for Pinellas.
What we don't know is who is getting served.
The state doesn't collect any demographic information about the children in VPK. So we can't say whether it has become a middle class entitlement for families that would have paid for pre-k anyway, as some feared, or whether low-income children with greater early education deficits are in the classes, too.
No word on whether the state ever plans to look into that, either.
To see the state's full report on pre-k participation, click here (Excel spreadsheet).