Florida has the highest enrollment nationwide of 4-year-old children in a state pre-kindergarten program, but a new report warns the state may see little return on its investment because of poor quality and underfunding.
The National Institute for Early Education Research's annual report released Tuesday finds Florida tops the nation in access, with 76 percent of children enrolled. Yet state funding per child is significantly below the nationwide average, and Florida meets only three of 10 quality benchmarks.
"Unfortunately Florida has the lowest teacher qualifications in the country," said Steve Barnett, director of the research center at Rutgers University. "What makes it especially unfortunate is that Florida has the highest enrollment."
Because teacher qualifications are so low, Barnett said, "It's very unlikely you have much of an impact, and the impact is going to be especially weak for poor kids."
Stuart Greenberg, director of Florida's Office of Early Learning, said the state's universal, free program for 4-year-old children has seen positive results: Nearly 77 percent of children who had completed the program scored as "kindergarten ready" on two assessments given within the first 30 days of kindergarten last school year. By comparison, only 52.9 percent who had not participated scored at the same level on those exams.