New VPK program opens at MOSH amid growing concerns over rising child care cost

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The cost of child care is on the rise and research shows it’s largely due to the pandemic.

But in Florida, there is the option of free volunteer pre-kindergarten, also known as VPK.

Duval County Public Schools and the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) just launched a new program to get 4- and 5-year-old children ready for kindergarten.

At MOSH, you’ll find more than a dozen Duval County Public School students all taking part in a brand new VPK program this year.

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“We wanted the kids to have an opportunity to learn outside what would be a traditional classroom. They have live animals here, exhibits and a lot of the scientific concepts that we typically teach through a book,” said Sonya Mcswain, director of early childhood for Duval County Public Schools.

It’s helping young kids get the skills they need to get a head start on kindergarten.

The Duval County School district isn’t the only place that offers VPK programs.

Natasha Rodgers says her 4-year-old daughter Skyla has been attending a VPK program at A.L. Lewis Head Start, which is run through Lutheran Services Florida.

“She is learning how to read more. She loves to read,” Rodgers said.

Lutheran Services Florida Duval Head Start told me that its program has helped families from lower income areas who can’t afford child care, a cost that adds up every month for the average family.

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“Throughout the month you’re looking at about 600 to 700 dollars a month for child care,” said Theresa Wilson, early childhood education supervisor for Lutheran Services Florida Duval Head Start.

According to lendingtree.com, the average cost per year for child care used to be over $6,000 a year.

When the pandemic hit, that cost jumped to over $13,000. It’s a 102 percent increase.

Without the help of VPK, Rodgers said she doesn’t know where she would be.

“I would definitely be struggling, probably pulling out all my hair, but VPK came through and helped me a lot. It saved me a lot,” she said.

Mcswain said these programs provide an important foundation for students both socially and academically.

“Being able to provide that to a child at no cost is really a treasure for a parent,” Mcswain said.