PRE-K AMENDMENT - Mitch Perry

04/27/04

One of the many issues the State Legislature will vote on in the last scheduled week of the 2004 Session is on the Universal Pre-Kindergarten Program that voters demanded 2 years ago....

However, the version that looks poised to pass is NOT what many of the advocates of the program envisioned when they campaigned for it as a Constitutional Amendment back in 2002.

The Senate Plan would allow parents to choose between a 540-hour program offered by public, private or religious schools during the school year - 3 hours a day for 180 school days- or an intensive 300 hour summer program.

The program is expected to cost about $300 million dollars and would be open to about 125,000 4 year olds in the fall of 2005.

But there were Democrats in both chambers fighting for the Package to provide a 720 hour - or 4 hours a day ( program) And that's still 2 hours less than a state Task has recommended.

Tallahassee Representative Loranne Ausley is one such Democrat in the legislature fighting for a stronger bill with more hours Universal Pre-K Program (roll tape#1 o.q."Constitutional requirements")

Last week the State Senate rebugged Democrats requests for not only longer program hours, but also higher teaching credentials.....Specifically the Senate voted "no" on amendments ramping up teacher requirements by 2013 to a bachelor's degree, not just a child Development associate Credential.

Similar efforts to inject higher teacher standards in the House pre-K bill were killed in the House Appropriations Committee......Governor Bush has assigned a Pre-K Advisory Council back in January, led by Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings...that panel has recommended that the Pre-K Program include a 6hour day......Again, Tallahassee Representative Loranne Ausley

(roll tape#2 o.q. "and watered down")

Parents who want their 4-year-olds to go to the state-sponsored free voluntary pre-kindergarten would have several options under the Senate bill. They could pick a 540-hour program during the school year provided by a public school, private child-care center or faith-based child-care provider. Or they could choose an intensive 310-hour summer public school program.

Last week Sarasota Republican State Senator Lisa Carlton, defended the Senate bill for providing accountability and choice, saying if the state doesn't see results and accountability, we have the opportunity to go back and change that. Tallahassee Representative Loranne Ausley says with so much at stake, that's not good enough (roll tape#3 o.q."voters have asked us to do")

As for credentials, Senator Carlton says participating schools would have to meet Gold Seal quality standards and have a specially trained director. Schools failing to help 85 percent of their kids become school-ready would have to stop offering the state's pre-K program.

Governor Bush has been critical about the rollbacks of the program, But Representative Ausley says when it comes down to it, she doesn't see the Governor using the bully pulpit of his office to demand changes (roll tape #4 o.q." I don't know")

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