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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 29, 2011

Scott and Legislature cut funding but kept faith-based providers in the mix

Rick Scott promoted school choice when campaigning for governor in 2010.

"I want to expand our commitment to choice. I believe we should be using taxpayer dollars spent on education in a way that meets the unique needs of each child to ensure their success. Every parent should have the choice to decide which delivery method and what provider is best to meet the needs and learning abilities of their children. Simply stated, parental choice is a crucial element of this new era in education," he wrote.

And offering school choice, Scott said, should also apply to the voter-approved Voluntary Pre-kindergarten program. The program, created by the Legislature in 2004, offers state funding to pay for a certain number of school hours the year before kindergarten.

"Last year nearly 6,000 providers served children in the VPK (Voluntary Pre-kindergarten) program. About 82 percent of those providers were private and/or faith based. I want to ensure that parents continue to have these choices of providers."

While Scott said overall he wanted to "expand" the state's commitment to choice, he didn't go as far when discussing Voluntary Pre-kindergarten. He said he simply wanted to ensure that parents "continue" to have the choices of faith-based and/or private providers.

(The Truth-O-Meter gave Scott a Promise Kept on his vow to expand school choice after he signed several bills that did just that into law in 2011.)

We'll note that simply continuing offering choices in the VPK program isn't a tough promise to keep -- it would be virtually impossible to wipe out the faith-based and private providers because those make up the bulk of the program statewide.

But let's look at how the numbers of faith-based and private providers have changed since the 2009-10 school year -- since that was what Scott based his promise on -- and the 2011-12 school year.

This chart shows the number of VPK providers -- and how many are family child care providers, private centers, private schools and public schools. The faith-based providers are a subset of the other categories since a facility can be faith-based and a private school, for example.

The state's Office of Early Learning considers all categories except public schools as private -- so that includes family child care centers. Based on that definition, we found about 85 percent of the providers were faith-based and/or private for both the 2009-10 year. (Scott said during the campaign that the figure was about 82 percent -- the Office of Early Learning said they weren't certain when Scott calculated the numbers and that he could have been working with an older data set but that's in the ballpark anyway.)

The state cut nearly $20 million for VPK for this fiscal year -- reducing the base student allocation by about 7 percent from $2,562 to $2,383, according to Laura Woodard, a spokesperson in the state's Office of Early Learning. But we are only evaluating Scott on his promise for the state to continue to offer faith-based and private VPK providers. So, this is a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Florida's Office of Early Learning, Early Learning Services Factbook number of VPK providers by provider type, 2011-12 school year

Florida's Office of Early Learning, Voluntary Prekindergarten, Accessed Nov. 23, 2011

PolitiFact, "Ensure that voluntary pre-K program includes private or faith-based providers," 2010 campaign promise

Rick Scott, "Rick Scott's schools book: New education for a new economy," 2010 campaign

Florida Times Union, "Educators: Funding cuts will hurt Florida's voluntary pre-K programs," May 23, 2011

Interview, Deborah Higgins, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, Nov. 21-23, 2011

Interview, Laura Woodard, spokeswoman, Florida's Office of Early Learning, Nov. 23, 2011

Interview, Steve Mangum, data analyst, Florida's Office of Early Learning, Nov. 23, 2011

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