Florida’s early-education system will see significant changes in hopes of better preparing the state’s youngest learners, as Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills from the 2021 legislative session focused on improving pre-kindergarten accountability and early reading skills.
DeSantis promised significant benefits for Florida’s students.
“If you can make headway here, you will see a positive ripple effect continue through many, many years of these students being in our system,” he said during a press conference in Miami Tuesday.
DeSantis actually held two press conferences about the new legislation, one in Indian River County and the one in Miami-Dade. He was joined by the sponsors of the two bills — Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican who represents part of Indian River and St. Lucie counties, and Rep. Vance Aloupis, a Republican who represents part of Miami-Dade.
The goal of HB 419, Grall’s bill, is to provide greater accountability for Florida’s pre-kindergarten programs and give parents as much information about how their child is progressing as possible. These programs are voluntary because compulsory education begins at age 6 in Florida.
“This policy is all about empowering parents and families and giving parents the information they need — at that critical time in a child’s life — to make the best decisions for their children,” Grall said.
Almost half of Florida’s kindergarteners are not ready for that level, state data show, and existing assessments of how a Pre-K student is progressing may not give parents enough time or information to determine whether that student should progress.
Under existing law, assessments to determine if a child is ready for kindergarten are taken during the first 30 days of kindergarten. This means that parents may not know that their child is not ready for kindergarten until a month after the student started the school year.
And, according to an legislative staff analysis, only 53 percent of kindergarten students were deemed ready for kindergarten based on the Fall 2019 assessments. Grall previously called this data point a “failure” on the part of the Florida Legislature.
The new law would have students assessed for kindergarten readiness while they are still in Pre-K, so that struggling students can be identified quicker and can receive additional instruction if needed.
Rep. Aloupis argued that Grall’s bill will be “one of the most transformational pieces of policy … in the past few decades of education reform.”
Aloupis sponsored the other bill DeSantis signed into law Tuesday, HB 7011.
It creates a statewide monitoring program to keep track of how students progress in their academic career from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade, so that schools can identify students who are not performing on grade level for reading and mathematics.
Aloupis’s bill also works to bolster reading and literacy skills among Florida’s students with initiatives to intervene with struggling readers. One of these initiatives gives high school students a volunteer opportunity to tutor struggling readers in kindergarten through third grade.
The Phoenix previously reported that thousands of Florida’s third graders cannot read proficiently, and that many lawmakers see improving third-grade reading levels as a priority.