BROOKSVILLE — Enrollment is lagging for this summer's voluntary prekindergarten program in the Hernando County schools, and that might be the fault of a familiar culprit: soaring gas prices.
About 72 children have signed up for the free, daily readiness program that begins today, said coordinator Elaine Wooten. Another 1,000 took part in the program during the school year, which means about a third of the 1,600 eligible children in the county have not signed up.
There is no school bus service for prekindergarten, so parents must arrange transportation for children to and from the program, which offers age-appropriate practice in reading, mathematics and other early learning skills. Also, construction this summer means there will be no program at Eastside Elementary, the only site near Interstate 75 and the Ridge Manor neighborhood.
"That pretty much cuts out everyone on that side of town," Wooten said, referring to the high cost of gas. "I know we don't have many signed up (from there). It's a loss to those children, for sure."
Under the state-funded program, every kindergartener in Florida is entitled to participate in either 540 hours of preparation during the previous school year, or 300 hours during the summer before starting school.
In Hernando this summer, the program will be offered at Westside, Spring Hill and Brooksville elementary schools between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and includes lunch. Classes run through July 31. Parents can pick up children early in the afternoon, Wooten said.
"It's voluntary on the part of the parent," she said. "We like for them to come for part of every day."
For more information, call the district's school services department at 797-7051, or visit the central office at 919 North Broad St. between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Applicants must first visit the Childhood Development Services office at 20162 Cortez Blvd., in Brooksville to sign up. Parents must provide a photo identification and proof of residency, the child's birth certificate, physical and shot record. They will receive a certificate from Child Development Services that they must bring to the district office for admission.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.