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Governor's "It's Your Money" Tax Cut Budget Invests in Early Learning

- Largest increase in funding for school readiness, VPK, teacher development in 10 years -

Tallahassee, Fla. - Hundreds of thousands of young children and families in Florida stand to benefit from Governor Rick Scott's 2014-15 "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget." Signaling his strong commitment to programs that support his top two priorities-education and jobs-the Governor is proposing $1.1 billion in state funding for early child education and care-an increase of $59 million.

The additional funding marks the largest increase for early learning over the past decade. The budget includes a $100 per child increase in the base student allocation for the Voluntary Prekindergarten (VPK) Education Program, a one-time $30 million increase in funding for the School Readiness Program to serve additional children, and money for teacher scholarships and training.

"A quality early learning system is critical to providing Florida children the tools they need to succeed," said Governor Scott. "Dollars invested in early learning have a proven return on investment as children are better prepared to learn when they start school."

Florida's two primary early learning programs align with the Governor's major priorities-education and jobs.

The state's free VPK program helps better prepare children to learn when they enter kindergarten. The statewide program offers Florida's 4-year-olds universal access to the same educational preparation regardless of family income. More than 174,000 children are enrolled in VPK. The Governor's budget includes an increase of $929,000 for VPK raising the base student allocation from $2,383 to $2,483 per child in the school-year program and from $2,026 to $2,126 for children in the summer programs.

The School Readiness Program helps low-income families who may need temporary public assistance or are transitioning from public assistance to obtain child care so they can work or attend training and/or education programs. Florida served close to 223,000 children in school readiness last year. The budget includes one-time authority for $30 million for school readiness to serve an additional 6,500 children.

The budget also includes two key recommendations that focus on support and training for early childhood teachers: (1) an additional $1.5 million for T.E.A.C.H., a program that provides scholarships for childcare workers to get certificates and degrees, and (2) $5 million for school readiness teacher improvement that would provide training for teachers in school readiness programs and a statewide system to measure teacher effectiveness and improvement.

To improve the efficiency of early learning data systems around the state, the Governor is recommending $7 million to develop and implement a critical, statewide technology and information system for early learning.

The budget also includes savings as a result of eliminating seven positions and the Even Start program.

Office of Early Learning Executive Director Shan Goff said, "This budget shows Governor Scott's strong commitment to early learning. The historic funding recommendations will help ensure high quality early learning opportunities for Florida's children."

David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children's Movement of Florida, said, "It's an encouraging budget for the future of children. What the Governor recommends underscores how important the early learning years are."

Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County Chair and former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner said, "Early childhood development programs for children from birth to age 5 are important investments and can help narrow the achievement gap, paving the way for a child's success. These programs provide funding for child care to families whose parents are working and trying to become financially self-sufficient. Additionally, they prepare at-risk children to start school on the right track. The Governor's budget recommendations show that he clearly understands the importance of early learning. His budget will improve the quality of school readiness programs in Palm Beach County and across Florida."

Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County Chair Skip Housh said, "Governor Scott's recommendations are good for early learning and for our economy. The evidence is clear; children who are ready to learn when they start kindergarten generally perform well throughout their school careers. The readiness of our children to succeed once they start school is a key indicator for the future economic development of our state."

Early Learning Coalition of Marion County Executive Director Roseann Fricks, who also chairs the statewide Association of Early Learning Coalitions, stated, "This is an exciting step forward for early learning. This will allow early learning coalitions to serve more children in school readiness and represents an important increase for VPK, which is available to all Florida 4-year-olds. We thank the Governor for this support."

Ted Granger, president of the United Way of Florida, said "It is gratifying to see that as our state's economy strengthens Governor Scott continues to invest in children. Early learning is where education begins and putting more funds into programs such as school readiness helps children and families in Florida."

Ellen McKinley, board president of the Child Development Educational Alliance, a professional organization that provides early childhood teachers in Christian settings with conferences, curriculum training and FCCPC credentials, said, "This is good news. This will help more families in need, and the increases for teacher scholarships and training will benefit teachers, parents and children. We are grateful for Governor Scott's support for early learning."

The budget in its entirety is available at www.FLItsYourMoney.com.

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