THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: Democrat’s Bill Would Earmark Powerball Money for VPK

Feb 26, 2009



THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE…….With Florida joining of the multi-state Powerball game, a Florida House freshman sees a good way to reverse some of the cuts to the state’s Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program.

While Lottery money generally is set aside for education, the new revenue coming in from sales of Powerball tickets isn’t specifically earmarked, said Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed.

“That’s why I picked up on it, there’s nothing that says where the Powerball (money) goes,” said Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach.

Her bill (HB 1125), filed this week, would require a portion of Powerball net revenue to be allocated to the Voluntary Pre-K Program.

“Pre-kindergarten is the basis of all education,” she said.

Meanwhile, officials from the Department of Education and the Agency for Workforce Innovation, which oversee the VPK program, announced Thursday that 54 percent of the children who were enrolled in VPK last year showed adequate classroom readiness on a state assessment, as opposed to only 42 percent among children who weren’t enrolled in VPK.

“These latest results reinforce that children who participate in Florida’s VPK program are better equipped to embrace a lifetime of learning,” AWI Interim Director Cynthia Lorenzo said in a statement. “Quality early learning experiences provide the foundation that children need to be avid learners, caring citizens and ultimately conscientious contributors to our workforce and our future.”

But Clarke-Reed said the program needs more money – it’s been cut in recent years – to be effective for the largest number of students.

Parents have told her the program isn’t as useful as it might be because some providers’ hours are limited. Some parents who work can’t drop their children off for a half day without someplace for them to go the rest of the day.

“I would hope that by having more money going there we could possibly get the hours of that program increased,’ Clarke-Reed said. “It would put more parents – single moms, single dads – back into the workforce.”

The VPK program, now in its fourth year, saw its per-student budget cut from $2,677 per child in 2007 to $2,575 per child this year, and will be reduced to $2,190 per child this summer because of a cut made during the January special session. The program gets no money from parents – it’s free for all four-year olds.

Gov. Charlie Crist has requested $22.7 million in the coming year budget, which would maintain that spending level per child, but allow for projected growth in enrollment.

It’s not clear how much money Clarke-Reed’s bill would send to the VPK program because it’s not known how much Powerball will bring in, she said. Her bill hasn’t been assigned to a committee yet, and as of yet, doesn’t have a Senate sponsor.