Of the 42 states and one city (Washington, D.C.) that maintain Pre-K programs in America, the state of Florida manages to spend less on preschool care than almost all of them, according to a report released yesterday by Rutgers University's National Institute of Early Education Research. Of the 43 areas studied, Florida came in at a measly 39th.
The ranking is, frankly, embarrassing, for a number of reasons. The report says that Florida, along with California and Texas, has among the highest number of children in poverty, serves among the largest number of children, and boasts "some of the lowest quality standards in the nation."
Quality public preschool care is of the utmost importance in South Florida especially, where many of the state's poorest residents live. According to a 2015 report from the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory & Economic Resources, roughly 24,490 children under the age of five live in poverty in Broward County, while 45,873 preschool-aged kids live below the poverty line down in Miami-Dade.
The benefits of high-quality preschool care are obvious. The National Institute of Early Education Research laid out the problem succinctly in a separate factsheet, which says that kids denied access to quality preschool care at any income level are put at a major disadvantage when they enter kindergarten. But the issues are worse among the country's lowest-income residents, who rely the heaviest on public schooling, since they typically cannot shop around for top-dollar private schools or daycare services. And those who "start behind," the Institute says, "stay behind":
Many children do not arrive at school with the skills they need. Unfortunately, this is the
seed that grows to become America’s school failure and dropout problem. The National Center
for Education Statistics (NCES) study of children who entered kindergarten in 1998 found that
cognitive and social skills are strongly correlated with income at school entry. Although children
in poverty are the furthest behind, children from middle-income families are as far behind children
from higher income families as poor children are behind the middle class. Most American
children are not achieving their potential prior to school entry, and those who start behind tend to
stay behind. America cannot afford to squander the talents of so many of its children by leaving
them behind at the starting gate.
Florida does rank highly in terms of access to preschool care, though: The state mandated that all Florida four-year-olds receive access to preschool care back in 2002, and the study said the state has the third-most "accessible" care in the nation. But yesterday's report singled out Florida specifically for failing to adequately fund the care it provides by law.
"Expansion of public pre-K is only a worthwhile public investment if children receive a high-quality education," the report said. "Unfortunately, even many of the states that have chosen to fund pre-K have not committed sufficient resources to fund a high-quality program. Three of the four states with the largest populations of 3- and 4-year-olds rank toward the bottom on quality standards and spending per child. Florida stands out for offering universal pre-K funded at just $2,300 per child."
By comparison, New Jersey, the country's top-performing state, spends $12,149 per kid.
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Florida has been roundly criticized for failing to properly educate kids at almost every level: Last week, novelist, Miami Herald columnist, and Florida poet laureate Carl Hiassen criticized Governor Rick Scott for spending taxpayer money to try and lure jobs from California while Florida spends "an embarrassingly paltry amount on our schools."
According to the National Education Association, he said, the average salary of public school teachers in Florida in 2013-2014 was $47,780 — 39th in the country.
Thank God our vampire bat of a governor seems more occupied with luring companies down here with the promise of cheap, $8.05-an-hour labor. Keep fighting the good fight, Rick.