Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program Benefits the Tampa Schools

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

A constitutional amendment was passed in November 2002 that established the Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program for all four year olds in the state of Florida. The program benefits not only the children but the Tampa schools, as well, by preparing children for kindergarten and beyond.

Documented studies have shown that preschool is one of the best investments for any city and its youth. A California study found that, for every dollar spent on preschool, the city and schools save $2.62. This savings is realized through lower juvenile crime and high school dropout costs. Another study showed that Tampa schools’ children will be more likely to read by the third grade, less likely to require remedial education, and more likely to graduate high school and enter college. The savings for the Tampa schools come from the decrease in remedial classes and program to keep students in school that would otherwise be required.

For the Tampa schools’ area, the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County (ELC) administers the VPK program.  They ensure that the future Tampa schools children develop the skills necessary to become good readers and successful Tampa schools students. The VPK program includes standards for literacy skills, appropriate currcula, substantial instruction periods, qualified instructors, manageable class sizes, and appropriate accountability. 

Parents may choose from the school year program of 540 hours that begins in the fall or the summer session of 300 hours. VPK is free to all four year olds, whose parents are residents of Florida.  Parents are responsible for costs for any care before and after classes, as well as transportation. The VPK hours are paid by the state. Providers are not permitted to charge a registration fee or require parents to agree to any additional services in order to receive the VPK services.

The first year of implementation for VPK was the 2005-2006 school year and summer session, during which the program served more than 100,000 Florida four year olds (approximately 40 percent of all four year olds in the state). Close to 66,000 children already have registered for the 2006-2007 school year, as of August 3rd.

For Hillsborough County, in which the Tampa schools are located, more than 7,100 children have registered. This is up from last year’s 6,700 for both the fall and summer sessions.

Tampa schools’ area VPK providers, however, have been slow to sign up this year, according to ELC’s executive director, Dave McGerald. Also, many Tampa schools’ area providers did not renew their contracts until late in the summer. McGerald does expect to serve as many as 10,000 children this year, which includes those in the Tampa schools’ area.

Even though VPK classes have begun in the Tampa schools’ area, children can be enrolled for six months after the session starts. The sooner children are enrolled, however, the more benefits they receive.