Enrollment in Florida's VPK Program is down and educators are worried about the long-term impact that could have on students.

Sandy White is the Director of Barlow Little Palms Pre-School in Palm Harbor.

What You Need To Know

  • Enrollment numbers for state's VPK programs are down 

  • Educators concerned with long term impacts that could have on students 

  • Pandemic is the biggest cause for the decline

She said typically she has 9 or more children enrolled in the center's VPK class but this school year it's been a struggle.

"We are required to have 4 students to start our VPK class. I didn't sign up my fourth one until January so that's when my program started in January," she said.

Providers suspect the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest reason for the decline in enrollment.

According to the Early Learning Coalition, VPK enrollment in Hillsborough County is down by about 30% and enrollment is down in Pinellas County by about 25%. It's also down statewide.

ELC of Pinellas County CEO Lindsay Carson said VPK is helpful in teaching children literacy skills and getting them ready to be in a classroom.

"Additionally, of course, they're developing early math skills, science skills and executive functioning," she said.

Carson worries that with the decline in enrollment, some children won't have the skills they need to start kindergarten successfully in the fall.

She also said studies show missing out on these lessons can contribute to some students struggling in school for years.

"And that affects us all," said Carson. "Not just those with children but anybody with employees and anyone concerned about the workforce."

Providers are hoping for a boost in enrollment this summer if Covid-19 infections go down.

"And then you're immediately ready for kindergarten because you go right from VPK to that," White said.

The VPK Program could also get some assistance from lawmakers in Tallahassee.

A House Bill is under consideration that would revise the program and phase in new assessments.