Action News Jax Investigates: Readiness rates of Florida’s VPK programs

VPK programs failing kids

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Thousands of Florida kids who go to voluntary prekindergarten, or VPK, are not ready for kindergarten, according to the state.

In Florida, 4- and 5-year-olds have free access to VPK, a program designed to get little ones ready for school.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis said 42% of VPK providers are failing to do that.

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It's a number big enough to concern local mom Lissette Naranjo.

“That’s crazy to hear. I didn’t think it would be so high,” Naranjo said.

But Denise Marzullo, CEO of Early Learning Coalition, said parents need to look beyond the numbers.

“If I was a parent of a child entering VPK program, I would put very little weight on the readiness rates. I just don’t think they are being calculated accurately,” Marzullo said.

Marzullo questions how the state is collecting and calculating the data for its VPK readiness rate.

“One of the concerns I have is it’s done the first 30 days of kindergarten, when it’s a very stressful time for our kindergartners. Our 5-year-olds that are in a classroom in a big school with fifth graders rode the bus to school,” Marzullo said.

Marzullo said that assessment alone shouldn't determine whether a program is deemed successful or not.

She said more factors should be considered, like learning gains throughout the VPK year.

“State Legislature is looking at a better way to come up with the formula. They agree with all the early learning experts that this is a flawed assessment right now," Marzullo said.

While the state figures out the best way to grade these programs, there are things you can do to determine if a program is the right fit.

Elcduval.org has a checklist you can take with you when you visit an early learning program. It encourages you to ask questions like:

  • Do the kids look happy and involved?
  • Is the program a part of Guiding Stars of Duval? (That’s a voluntary scoring process that goes beyond state guidelines.)