Putting Education Reform To The Test

Benefits, And Barriers, To Early Learning In Florida

Every morning, children at Education Station begin the day with a hug and a book.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

Every morning, children at Education Station begin the day with a hug and a book.

Florida’s legislative session is months away, but educators and politicians are already talking about making early childhood education a priority.

“Early childhood is viewed as childcare, and not early childhood education, which it really is,” says Dr. Susan Neimand, director of the School of Education at Miami Dade College, which runs a nationally recognized early learning center called Education Station.

“We know that the brain starts developing from the time the child is in the womb—and the proper attention for that is not given,” says Neimand.

LISTEN: Why Early Learning Matters To Florida Educators

From the infant room to the pre-K class, children at Education Station start their day with a hug and a book. It’s part of an evidence-based approach to cultivate learners. The center is staffed by professionals trained in child development and students from the school of education.

Research has shown that children who get high-quality early learning—where instructors are trained in child development and reading and learning are encouraged through play—are more likely graduate high school and go on to college. They’re less likely to end up in jail. As a result, the federal government estimates that every dollar invested in early learning can save about seven dollars in the future.

It looks like finger paint, but it's really a display of motor skill development at Exploration Station.

Sammy Mack / StateImpact Florida

It looks like finger paint, but it's really a display of motor skill development at Exploration Station.

“In order to be able to compete in a globalized world, it is very, very important that we’re able to provide this foundation in early education,” says Dr. Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College.

But that foundation is not cheap. Full price for Exploration Station costs $650 to $900 dollars a month—though most of the families receive a school discount or some kind of grant. The college subsidizes the building and all the facilities.

Florida’s School Readiness program offers financial assistance to low income families for early learning programs across the state. But the wait list for that help is longer than 60,000.

Even if families can secure a spot, not all daycare centers offer the same early learning opportunities—though there’s movement to improve early education quality in Florida. The Florida Current reports Florida’s Early Learning Advisory Committee has backed a series of recommendations that would standardize training for daycare and pre-kindergarten staff and provide incentives for high-quality programs:

Rep. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, declared during an Oct. 10 House Education Committee meeting she intended to focus on daycare and pre-k programs during the spring session. …

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” O’Toole said. “It is more imperative than ever that we work together as a team to discuss what needs to be done.” …

Members of the ELAC subcommittee zeroed in on the training requirements for people working with children in the various programs. The committee agreed to recommend a minimum age of 18 for people who lead/supervise a group of preschoolers. And, it also reached a consensus on age-appropriate training for people working directly with children.

Early learning is on the federal legislative agenda, too. President Barack Obama has proposed a universal preschool plan that would cost $75 billion.


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