Blog | Event | February 18, 2021

Panelists Discuss the Pressing Importance of High-Quality Early Childhood Education in Florida

A new CSA report reveals that investments to enhance quality in Florida’s VPK program can boost long-term public safety, national security, and the state’s workforce strength

Yesterday, legislators, law enforcement, military, and business leaders joined a panel discussion to release a new CSA report entitled, “High-Quality Early Childhood Education Is Key for a Strong Florida.” The new report highlights how high-quality early childhood education is a potent means of improving public safety, building a stronger workforce, and bolstering national security, all while helping young people have a better shot at healthy, rewarding lives.

The event featured the following speakers: Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil; Brigadier General Jerry Neff, U.S. Army (Ret.); Jennifer Flynn Dear, Managing Director - Community Impact & Alumni Network, KPMG LLP; Sandra Bishop, Ph.D., Chief Research Officer for Council for a Strong America; and State Senator Loranne Ausley (District 3).

After an introduction by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids associate Jesse Kohler, Sandra Bishop addressed the panel and provided some important context on the report. “Florida’s long-term economic growth, public safety, and our national security depend on the foundation that we lay for students today,” she said, underscoring the report’s key takeaway.

Next, Sheriff McNeil spoke about his experiences in law enforcement and how high-quality early childhood education can help better children’s lives. “What we know is that high-quality early childhood education can improve the lives of young people in a way that will benefit them for years to come, laying a foundation for better academic skills and better social-emotional skills,” he said. Sheriff McNeil also stressed the ability of high-quality early childhood education to mitigate adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can create toxic stress and negatively impact young people’s lives.

General Neff spoke next, explaining how high-quality early education helps give young people more professional options and strengthens our national security. “Nearly one in four young Americans cannot pass the military entrance exam,” he said. “High-quality early learning programs can help keep military service an option for more Floridians.”

ReadyNation member Jennifer Flynn Dear offered a business perspective, explaining how high-quality pre-K can play a key role in pushing Florida’s economy forward. “The key for Florida moving forward is to improve quality in its pre-K program,” she said. “Although early childhood education is a pathway to the wide range of potential positive outcomes we’ve discussed today, that pathway is only open if programs are high-quality.”

Senator Loranne Ausley spoke next, noting that policymakers must support enhanced quality for Florida’s VPK program. “Our state needs to be ready with the infrastructure, and accountability and quality mechanism to implement the dollars and programs hopefully coming out of Washington,” she said, also emphasizing the powerful difference that high-quality pre-K can make for Florida’s young people.

To better the quality of life for all Floridians, policymakers in the state need to do more to improve the quality of and access to pre-K. Though Florida has made strides in prioritizing access to early childhood education, only about half of entering Florida kindergartners demonstrate readiness to succeed in school. At the same time, more than half of these children have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. High-quality early childhood education, specifically pre-K programs, will help give children the tools they need to succeed in elementary school and beyond.

A full video of the panel discussion may be found below:

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