Governor’s Task Force to Re-Open Florida
Industry Working Group
April 23, 2020, 11:00 am
President/CEO, Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe
Florida’s 30 Early Learning Coalitions, in partnership with the Florida Department of Education, serve children in all 67 counties. We are responsible for overseeing the federally funded School Readiness program for low income working families as well as the state’s VPK program. Our volunteer board of directors is made up of community leaders, with more than 1/3 required by law to be from the private sector. The chair and two other members are appointed by the governor. Florida’s budget for these programs is just over $1 billion.
Children and Providers Served:
The Miami-Dade/Monroe Early Learning Coalition serves approximately 45,000 children annually in 1,343 contracted early learning and after school programs. Although early learning programs are part of Florida’s education system, they operate and are financed differently than the K-12 system.
Programs include family child care homes and traditional child care centers, with a large percentage being
family owned and operated
Out of our 1
,343 early learning programs in Miami-Dade, 1,134 (85%) are currently closed. That leaves just 209 (15%) programs open to serve the community.
Challenges and Recommendations
I’ve spent countless hours on the telephone with child care providers and can assure you that the decision to close or remain open was a very difficult one. Some that are currently closed, but initially remained open, had very few children attending and with significantly reduced revenue had no choice but to close. It was a difficult decision because they are concerned about their staff’s paycheck and the essential service they provide to their community. Those that remain open face a similar situation and are wondering how much longer they can survive. Many remain open because early on Commissioner Corcoran authorized some flexibilities and approved financial assistance for parents and programs, particularly those that are serving first responders and health care workers.
Transition to Kindergarten:
Like all children returning to school, children transitioning from VPK to kindergarten often lose some of their learning gains during the summer months. Florida’s VPK program plays a key role in closing the achievement gap, so over the next few weeks we should look for opportunities within the VPK program to ensure children enter kindergarten with the basic skills they need to succeed.
Infant, Toddlers and Children With Special Needs:
Infant and toddler care are traditionally more expensive because of the low child to teacher ratios. There is concern that in order to reduce their mounting losses early learning programs may be less likely to offer infant and toddler care when they reopen. Targeted incentives for programs that serve infants and toddlers as well as children with special needs should be considered with the CARES funding.
Less Revenue and Higher Labor Costs:
The smaller group sizes recommended by the Florida Department of Health and the CDC present an immediate challenge as more staff are needed to care for the same number of children with decreased revenue. One of the priorities with CARES funding should be to help early learning programs meet the new CDC guidelines. It is particularly important to support higher quality programs because they are making a big difference in helping us close the achievement gap.
Paycheck Protection Program:
A recent survey by a Florida provider association indicated that only 6% of their programs received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program. I realize that many others are in the same boat, but this is something to keep in mind as we try to shore up early learning programs so they can meet their obligations as they reopen.
I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that full social distancing is practically impossible in a child care setting. The programs that remain open may not have Personal Protective Equipment due to shortages, but they have been creative and are making do with what they have available. This lack of PPEs worries staff, many of whom are in the high-risk age group, as well as parents, owners and directors. As programs reopen we should help them with safety measures so they can reassure their staff and parents that their children will be safe in a child care setting.
High need communities are always hit particularly hard in these situations. Wages are lower and many families live at or below the poverty level. We should target some of the CARES funding to help families and early education programs in high-need areas.
Every County is Different:
One last thing to keep in mind is that one size does not fit all in Florida. Each of our 67 counties is quite different so we must be thoughtful in our approach. One perfect example is Miami-Dade and Monroe County. We oversee early learning programs in both counties, but the approach we take in Monroe requires different considerations.