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Tallahassee Democrat: Changes threaten working families

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Linda Lanier: Changes threaten working families  

Lately, we are seeing some positive signs that our economy is starting to rebound, and we believe that Florida’s state policies are moving in the right direction to support working families, the key to a strengthening economy.

However, there are several bills currently moving through the Legislature that threaten low-income working families by denying access to quality early learning programs for their children. Working Florida families depend on programs that help them achieve self-sufficiency and arm their children with a high-quality early-learning education to succeed in life. While developing policies that create jobs and strengthen the economy, state leaders must also make Florida’s children a part of the equation in the race toward prosperity.

The Florida Children’s Council promotes policies that build effective primary prevention and early intervention systems of supports for Florida’s children and families by engaging and enhancing the collective strengths of the individual children’s services councils of Florida and their communities. Representing eight counties in Florida — Duval, Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Pinellas — we serve more than 50 percent of our state’s low-income children and families. To do so effectively, we partner with the state’s early-learning leaders and stakeholders.

By making the education of young children a priority and supporting low-income working families, legislators can make strategic investments that pay dividends in the form of children who are healthy, ready to learn, and prepared to succeed. These investments also minimize the downstream costs of health care, juvenile detention and remedial education.

The proposed bills would alter the very nature of our early-learning system by eliminating the foundational, early-learning education criteria that are essential to ensuring program accountability and meeting federal intent. Specifically, lawmakers must continue to fund critical screenings for children that identify red flags such as vision or hearing deficiencies, and developmental delays that may compromise a child’s ability to learn. Catching these problems now will avoid the cost of intervention services, school failure and even human suffering later.

Policies must include measures to protect research-driven child assessment tools that measure the effectiveness of teaching and learning. Child assessment scores are a means by which we know where a child enters a program and where he or she exits — a pre/post-test model.

State policies should ensure that educators utilize research-based curricula that have been proven to produce good learning outcomes in young children. These curricula are powerful tools that teachers can use to ensure that all children learn, grow and prepare to enter kindergarten ready to learn. These basic educational requirements must be outlined as foundational requirements for child-care centers and family-care homes that participate and accept early-learning funds, commonly known as child-care vouchers.

Additionally, we must have an accountability system that prioritizes health, safety and education for children and ensures appropriate use of these federal and state tax dollars.

Developing a well-prepared workforce for tomorrow requires a good education today. Quality early-learning experiences are seeds sown for the promise of a strong, academic future. Don’t count working families or their children out of that future.


Linda M. Lanier is the chair of the Florida Children’s Council, a statewide organization made up of children’s services councils that provide funding for primary prevention and early-intervention programs for children and families in their communities. Lanier also is the CEO/executive director of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.


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