VPK enrollment dipped in Escambia

Students raise their hand in La’Tris Sykes kindergarten class at Lincoln Park Elementary School (Michael Spooneybarger/ Studer Community Institute)

This year, there are 2,959 kindergarteners in Escambia County Schools this year.

About 1,000 of them were not ready for school, based on previous data about kindergarten readiness, one of 16 metrics in the Studer Community Institute’s Pensacola Metro Dashboard that measures the economic, educational and social well-being of a community.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Escambia County 66 percent of 5-year-olds were ready for school, according to data analysis from the Florida Office of Early Learning.

Last week providers received preliminary readiness data from the Office of Early Learning about children who were in their programs.

Cynthia Sucher, spokeswoman for the office, said sometime later this spring, those findings will be available to the public once the state Board of Education approves an administrative rule allowing their release.

Participation in VPK does improve a child’s kindergarten readiness. Data from the Office of Early Learning shows 80 percent of kids who complete VPK in Escambia County are kindergarten ready.

Of those who don’t complete VPK, 50 percent are ready for school.

Kindergarten readiness data from eight counties that have Children's Services Councils, as well as data for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Kindergarten readiness data from eight counties that have Children’s Services Councils, as well as data for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The Escambia County Early Learning Coalition manages the funding for the state VPK program. Bruce Watson, the coalition’s executive director, says VPK enrollment dropped off from 2,544 last year to 2,080 for this school year.

According to Census data, in 2015 there were 3,589 4-year-olds in Escambia County.

That means there were about 1,000 children eligible for VPK who weren’t enrolled.

Watson believes the drop off in VPK enrollment reflects two things:

— Until this year, the number one reason parents do not send their child to VPK is lack of transportation coupled with a three-hour school day.

“It makes it hard to justify the effort to get the child there and back, especially when the parent is working regular hours,” he says.

— This year, the state instituted a new mandatory online registration system. All VPK registration had to be made using their online system.

“Although we went out of way to assist the parents, I think many decided registration was too hard,” he says.