Free PreK extended to full day in Levy

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By Sean Arnold

The School Board of Levy County has agreed to a major change to the Prekindergarten program, significantly expanding its free service.

Four- and 5-year-olds have already been eligible for free prekindergarten instruction for the first three hours of the school day under Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program (VPK).

Starting next school year, the Board has now made prekindergarten free for the entire day, beyond the three hours of VPK instruction. That includes free transportation to and from the care center as well as breakfast and lunch.

In order to take advantage of the free full day of prekindergarten, parents and guardians need to turn in a VPK certificate to their child’s school. A birth certificate and proof of address is needed for the certificate, which can be acquired at www.floridaearlylearning.com.

VPK is available to any child who is a Florida resident and is 4 years old on or before Sept. 1 of the year he or she wishes to attend. Parents of children turning 4 between Feb. 2 and Sept. 1 can choose to enroll their children the following year when they’re 5 years old.

VPK is an education program that’s been offered in Florida since 2005, thanks to the passing of a state constitutional amendment in 2002. Districts are required to offer 540 hours of free VPK over a school year (non-summer), which comes to around three hours per day.

The School Board’s new agreement covers the child care costs for the remainder of the day.

The VPK program offers a summer option in lieu of the regular school year, which amounts to 300 instructional hours.

Levy VPK coordinator Laura Klock thanked Superintendent Jeff Edison and the School Board of Levy County for the new funding.

“I’m so excited for the program,” she said. “It’s really awesome.”

Nearly 80 percent of 4-year-olds attend VPK in Florida, according to recent state estimates. Studies have shown children who attend VPK to be better prepared on average for kindergarten than those who don’t attend.

Private child care centers, elementary schools, charter schools and specialized instructional services providers may offer VPK.

For more on registering a child for VPK or locating a VPK site, contact the Early Learning Coalition of the Nature Coast at http://www.elc-naturecoast.org/services.php or go to www.floridaearlylearning.com. ELC can also be reached at through its Chiefland office at (352) 490-5855, or in person at 117 NE 1st St.