Belinda Churchill, lead VPK teacher at St. Christopher’s Children’s Center, uses an activity with pizza to teach her preschoolers shape identification, math and other skills.
The conversation about quality in early childcare is not going away.
Vicki Pugh, program improvement director at the Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County, says it will be topic number one at a national conference later this summer in New Orleans.
The Quality Ratings Improvement System National Learning network meets in July at a conference hosted with the BUILD Initiative, which advocates for quality ratings systems in the industry.
Pugh plans to be there.
Part of her job includes overseeing the Stars Over Escambia program, a quality rating system designed by the Coalition to give parents information about the 165 childcare centers contracted with the Coalition.
The Coalition is the financial gatekeeper for two important early learning programs: School Readiness and Voluntary Prekindergarten.
— School Readiness: A program that pays for subsidized childcare for children ages 0 to 13 as long as the parent works at least 20 hours a week and makes less than 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four with an income of $36,375 is eligible for the program.
Funding breaks down to about $3,500 per child. Overall funding has declined for the program from federal and state sources since 2007.
For this year, Escambia County got $13.6 million for School Readiness. For next, it is the same. There are just under 3,000 children in Escambia County in the School Readiness program.
Escambia County Commissioners provided $218,500 for 2016 to the Early Learning Coalition for School Readiness.
The money comes to the state from the federal Child Care and Development block grant program. In Escambia, 165 childcare providers participate in the School Readiness program.
— VPK: The state program established in 2005-2006 school year that provides funding for voluntary prekindergarten free to every Florida 4-year-old. It is funded at $2,467 per child and covers a three-hour instructional day. Escambia County’s share of that for the current school year is $5.4 million.
This school year, 2,080 4-year-olds are enrolled in VPK in Escambia County; 500 attend a school district run VPK. The rest attend at private centers.
There are 85 contracted VPK providers in Escambia County.
The Coalition can help parents with the process of choosing a childcare center.
By calling (850) 595-5415 — the childcare resources and referral line — coalition staff can help you narrow the list of possible centers.
They can give parents options based on geography, types of services offered, and other criteria.
The Stars Over Escambia quality rating system will rate childcare centers on a one- through four-star scale. Centers will have to present a portfolio to earn three- or four-star ratings.
At each level, a center must meet all of the criteria in the lower ratings matrix, as well as the additional criteria for the higher rating.
Here's what the Coalition will look for in the rating system:
A THREE-STAR CENTER:
A FOUR-STAR CENTER: