Early learning lays the educational foundation for children—fostering skills like communication, collaboration, and focus that are critical for future academic success.
Despite an influx in spending this year in Florida, to the tune of about $200 million new dollars for state-funded preschool and early learning programs, we do not invest nearly enough to offer each child in our state a high-quality early learning experience. Beyond funding, changes in teacher preparation, communication with families, and approaches to learning would also benefit our youngest learners.
To this end, The Children’s Movement of Florida has begun a new initiative we’re calling “The Future Project.” Our focus is to engage parents and educators to imagine a new early learning future in Florida–beginning with a listening tour.
Hundreds of Floridians across 15+ cities will share critical perspectives and become the core of this effort. Parents, educators, center owners and directors, advocates, and state policy experts will then work collaboratively to create an actionable roadmap for early learning policy and funding in our state.
Parents know what's best for their children. They don't always have access to the tools, services, and resources they need.
Educators are the key to a "high quality" early learning experience. Early learning educators are not always recognized or compensated for their important, brain-building work that helps children learn to be cooperative, respectful, and caring. This leads to frequent turnover for teaching roles where stability and relationship-building is so critical.
We know we will learn a lot from asking simple questions: What are your dreams and struggles? What do you like and enjoy about being an early childhood educator? Did you feel prepared as a teacher? As a parent, when did you feel supported? How did you choose the early learning environment for your child? What’s working and what is not?
That’s why hearing the dreams and struggles of Florida parents and educators is our starting point to reimagine the future for our youngest learners. We are committed to compensating parents and educators for their time and to mitigating the barriers they typically face in participating at policy tables: offering meals and child care during meetings, and hosting sessions in languages other than English.
As we embark on our listening tour, we're excited about the energy and enthusiasm among participants. Adding new voices to the policy conversation will help us build on two decades of very good progress in Florida and result in a robust plan for state leaders to act upon.
Madeleine K. Thakur is president of The Children’s Movement of Florida, a nonprofit that advocates for a strong start for all children in the state.