The State of Early Learning: A Childcare Crisis

  1. Children need to have foundational skills and developed social-emotional health.
  2. Attending a high-quality and affordable child care environment is a critical component of early childhood education, and is necessary for the financial stability of families and caregivers.
  3. Children need high quality teachers. Teachers need a safe, supportive environment that allows for ongoing training and professional development.

Impacts of COVID-19

COVID-19 has created lasting impacts on early learning and care including fewer teachers returning to the classroom, missed educational time for children, and child care closures due to positive cases or understaffing.

Inequity in High-Quality Child Care

Not all child care sites are the same quality--with limited access to high quality care in lower-income areas.

Cost of Care

In the Suncoast region*, child care costs more than a year of in-state tuition at the University of South Florida. [2]

Rising Household Costs

Families struggle with inflation, rising costs of living, and stagnant wages. This can result in the inablity to priortize child care.
*The Suncoast region includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties.

**Read more about the housing crisis and find local support:

Page 1: How Community Conditions Impact Early Learning

  • The Importance of Quality Early Care – Parents & Families Balancing Act
  • How Child Care Impacts the Workforce – Teacher & Provider Benefits

Page 2: VPK & Other Resources

  • Florida’s VPK Program – Resources for Caregivers
  • Legislative Highlights & Opportunities – References

The Importance of Early Learning

During the first five years of life, 90% of a child’s brain develops, forming the foundation for future learning. High-quality preschool gives children a strong start on the path that leads to college or a career. Research shows that all children benefit from high-quality preschool, with low-income children and English language learners benefiting the most. Students who enter kindergarten having developed age appropriate social-emotional and educational skills have greater lifetime success.

In the Suncoast 5-county region, 50% of students entering school are not ready for kindergarten as measured by the state Kindergarten Readiness (FLKRS) assessment. [1]

Across the state of Florida, 38% of people live in a child care desert – which is defined as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots. 54% of rural families are living without enough licensed child care providers. [4] Child care deserts can lead to lower kindergarten readiness scores, which are shown below.

For a closer look at child care deserts in your region, check out these two maps from the Center for American Progress:


There are 1.34 million kids under the age of 6 in Florida. [3]

Placeholder for “Percent of State Population Enrolled

As this chart demonstrates, across the last five school years and across all five counties in our region, consistently about 50% of students are arriving to school not ready for kindergarten. As this community-wide issue is leading to a large number of students not ready to enter kindergarten, regional collaborations are working to support students who live in disadvantaged districts. In 2020, the number of test takers across the Suncoast region dropped by 30% from the year before. In 2021, some students are returning, but not yet at pre-pandemic levels. [5]

Voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) is a free, high-quality half-day education program for 4-year-olds living in Florida. VPK offers care for one school year or one summer to prepare students for success in school and in life. VPK helps build a strong foundation for school using age and developmentally appropriate educational materials.
VPK enrollment dropped at the onset of the pandemic, and the number of kindergarten-test takers has also decreased. Fewer students are returning to school, which can have negative impacts on the quality of their early learning and development. [7]

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