Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pre-Kindergarten Program's Sliding-Scale Fees to Begin

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pre-Kindergarten Program's Sliding-Scale Fees to Begin

Article excerpt

The idea was to get parents and guardians invested in the pre-kindergarten early intervention programs that help prepare their at-risk children for elementary school.

That's why, starting with the 2000-01 school year that begins next month, the Legislature mandated sliding-scale fees be paid for the state-funded pre-kindergarten program that used to be free in Clay County and every other county in the state.

But the fee is not going over well in some households.

Lydia Barbour of Green Cove Springs, who has custody of a grandchild scheduled to start pre-kindergarten at Charles E. Bennett Elementary School in August, said she was shocked when she found out she would have to pay for a program designed, among other things, to help needy children.

Based on the fee scale, which takes into account family size and income, she will have to pay $26 a week for her grandchild to participate, she said. That will be tough on her family, which she said is "lucky" if it brings in $12,000 a year.

"Why do we have to pay? Nobody had to pay before . . . There is no point to it," Barbour said. "I just think it's pure wrong and I'm going to keep raising Cain."

The new fee is part of legislation approved in 1999 to reduce the administrative costs of running two publicly funded child-care programs for needy families -- school-based pre-kindergarten and subsidized private day care -- and using the savings to improve child care.

The School Readiness Act stemmed from lawmakers' concerns that kindergartners don't have the reading skills and social development skills they need.

The legislation also created coalitions, made up of experts in education, health, social services and other areas, to run the pre-kindergarten and other publicly funded child-care programs across the state. Clay and Nassau counties are in a coalition together, with Jacksonville-based Episcopal Children's Services acting as program administrator.

Starting July 1, state funds that were previously sent to school districts for pre-kindergarten programs and to private day-care centers to subsidize needy families went instead to a state trust fund. …

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