PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla (WFLA) – Early learning educators and advocates are worried after seeing a decline in enrollment for Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) program.

The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas tells 8 On Your Side they are seeing roughly about a 20% decline.

“That equates to over 1,200 students who are not getting the VPK program and that early learning experience,” said Lindsay Carson, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas.

Carson adds that the decline in enrollments is happening all across the state and it’s mainly from the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 hit last year we saw a drastic drop in enrollment at the time and it’s never quite kicked up all the way,” said Carson.

Now, those involved with early learning are worried about the effects this will have on young learners.

“It’s particularly concerning because this year before kindergarten is so critical as children are preparing to start with success as they go into kindergarten,” added Carson.

8 On Your Side spoke with the director of The Little People’s Place Preschool in Clearwater. She said attending VPK helps kids prepare for Kindergarten.

“Its very important, this is the basis of where their brains are learning the skills that they are going to need to succeed,” said Sonia Nienstadt, Director of The Little People’s Place Preschool.

The Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas tells 8 On Your Side there are still opportunities to get your child into a VPK program, either right now or this summer.

Click here for more information about VPK programs in Pinellas County.