Learning starts early as a child observes his environment, mimics sound, and expresses his emotions; regrettably so do education equity gaps. Research indicates seemingly commonplace interactions with parents, caregivers, and other children form the foundation for learning. With early experiences shaping a child’s social, emotional, and academic foundation, it is critical that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or zip code, are immersed in a high-quality child care environment.
According to the Florida Department of Education, over 40% of children who started kindergarten during the 2020-2021 academic year were not deemed “kindergarten ready”. While Florida’s readiness rate of 57% is an improvement over the 2019-2020 rate of 53%, state leaders and classroom educators are wary of the impact COVID-19 will have on rising kindergarteners. “Early learning experiences are critical to a child’s development,” said Charles Hokanson, Senior Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Partnerships, Helios Education Foundation. “Ensuring all children are immersed in books, receive instruction from an exceptionally trained educators, and are stimulated by their environment is the best way to increase readiness and close potential education equity gaps early.”
Legislators are addressing the early learning needs of young Floridians in a variety of ways, including the passage of House Bill 419 in 2021. The House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee, formed to oversee implementation of the legislation, prioritizes Florida’s youngest learners and VPK programs to ensure children receive high-quality instruction, learning challenges are identified and mitigated, and interventions are implemented that increase kindergarten readiness and student success.
Included is the bill are structural changes to ensure alignment between early learning providers and the state’s K-12 education system. Creation a Division of Early Learning within the Florida Department of Education and transfer of the Gold Seal Quality Care Program, which acknowledges state accredited child care facilities and in-home care providers, from the Department of Children and Families to the Florida Department of Education are two examples. “Helios Education Foundation is excited about Florida’s focus on early learning and the opportunities it will provide for all children to reach their potential through education,” said Hokanson.