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Funding for Florida VPK holding steady

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Bailey Richardson, student at Smart Start Pre-Prep. Bailey Richardson, student at Smart Start Pre-Prep.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Bailey Richardson's biggest concern is which color marker to use for her drawing. She's in voluntary pre-kindergarten at Smart Start Pre-Prep off Race Track Road in Hillsborough County. The woman who runs the center, Pamela Mace, has a lot more on her mind than Richardson.

"A lot of this has been digging into my own pocket," Mace, who's been with the center since 1993, said. "The kids come first, then teachers, then the rest of it."

A Rutgers University report puts Florida 35th out of 39 states for funding Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Programs. That same report states that in Florida, funding levels have "fallen so low as to bring into question the effectiveness of their programs by any reasonable standard."

State funding per student per year in Hillsborough County follows the downturn pattern. 

2010 - $2,672

2011 - $2,500

2012 - $2,281

Dave McGerald, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, says he has a solution, but that it might be "unpopular."

"Other states are focusing their dollars on children at risk," McGerald said. "They're not saying 'we have a program for every child.' It is good for every child but we can't afford it. It makes no sense to keep pouring these dollars in if its not a quality program."

Mace says she gets about $12.76 per student per day from the state. That number used to be around $15 or $16. 

"My teachers that have their Bachelor's are working for $12.50 an hour," Mace said. "The state wants us to put BAs in the classrooms but where's the money?"

VPK Providers can breath a little easier because according to the Florida Office of Early Learning, state funding will stay the same the next few years and not continue going down. 

Shan Goff, the Executive Director, sent us a statement, saying, "While clearly important, funding alone does not equate to quality or effectiveness," Goff wrote. "Florida's commitment to free pre kindergarten for 4-year-old children places us first in the nation for access."

Mace keeps her positive outlook but says even if the funding doesn't go down, it's still not enough.

"We're picking up the pieces," Mace said. "It's the children that are suffering the most because they don't understand."  

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