Tampa Bay parents frustrated waiting for answers about VPK

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Parents with children who are going into voluntary prekindergarten, or VPK, are frustrated and waiting for answers about the upcoming year.

“This is a very important decision for me to make for her regarding her care and I want her to want to go,” parent Amanda Webster said.

Her daughter is excited about her first day of VPK, and her first experience in a school setting. But Webster is concerned that it is already mid-August and she hasn’t heard anything from the VPK program she enrolled her daughter in.

“I went in there and was just like what is going on? I have not heard anything and I would really love her to come here but I just, I don’t even know what time to drop her off,” Webster said. “He pretty much told me that they were waiting, they don’t know any more than what I know. They were waiting on the early learning coalition to get with them and that was all going to be based on the schools, the school board and what they decided.”

Her situation is not unique – it is playing out all across the Tampa Bay area as parents of school-aged children, and VPK children wait for answers.

Webster worries that her daughter’s first day of school will be sprung on them.

“She hasn’t even met her teacher, I haven’t met her teacher. Does she need a mask? Does she not need a mask? Do I need to send supplies in for her? I have three kids, I don’t want to just be sprung last-minute like, go get school supplies, everything needs to be labeled and school starts tomorrow at 9 a.m.,” she said. “She needs that reassurance and I can’t give it to her which, as a parent, is frustrating because that’s what we’re supposed to do, especially starting school. You know it’s a huge thing for them.”

VPK is governed by the Florida Office of Early Learning, which is not currently offering a virtual option for parents. That’s being reflected in the number of registrations and enrollments across Tampa Bay.

By July 31, the Early Learning Coalition in Polk County approved 3,720 VPK applications in Polk County. That’s a 20% decrease from the same time last year when there were 4,653 approved applications. 

The Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties has also seen a notable decrease in VPK applications. Pasco County alone saw a more than 23% decrease in VPK applications this year.

That could be because some parents do not have the comfort level of bringing their children in, and some outreach efforts of the ELCs have been thwarted by social distancing mandates.

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