They like the bill, but ...
Don't take this the wrong way. Pinellas Early Learning Coalition executive director Janet Chapman wants teachers in the state's Voluntary Prekindergarten program to meet higher education requirements as much as anybody.
But the bill coming through the Florida Legislature (HB 741/SB 702) to make it happen has problems, Chapman tells the Gradebook. Specifically, she has concerns about the provision to have all VPK teachers earn an associate's degree by 2010. The bill also would have all pre-k teachers earn a bachelor's degree within five years.
"There's not enough semesters between now and 2010, even if you start today," Chapman says. Without making some provisions for educators working toward that goal, "we could potentially find ourselves in a problem where we have no certified teachers in the classrooms under this (bill)."
House sponsor Janet Long, a Pinellas Democrat, says she's open to recommendations to make the bill better. But she doesn't want to back off the proposal, which has not gained traction in several tries, because she also thinks it's the right thing to do.
"We need to put more of our resources into early childhood education and make sure our children are getting the best foundation," Long says. "I don't know why anyone would resist putting the very best into those classrooms."
The Children's Campaign of Florida likes the bill, too. It has pushed for degreed pre-k teachers since before the Legislature passed the VPK law three years ago. What it doesn't like is Gov. Charlie Crist's silence on the measure.
The group is urging its supporters to contact Gov. Crist, who has counted himself among supporters of the idea but done little to follow through. It wants Crist to use his bully pulpit in a way he has not to this point.
"Children need him to lead as actively this legislative session, especially with the budget problems that will result in service cutbacks and program closures," the Children's Campaign wrote in a recent legislative update. "The session is just starting and there is plenty of time for the Governor's legislative team and advisors to come forward with a more complete plan on behalf of all the children of this state. Let's encourage them to do it."