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Lawmakers pass early learning reform bill

Florida Education
Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-04-25 06:19:41-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL--House lawmakers unamiously passing a bill aimed at cracking down on early learning education fraud.

The bill passed the house 114 to 0.

Its relief for lawmakers like Rep. Marlene O'Toole, (R)District 33. She says lawmakers have to make sure the state has a early learning system that's as clean as a whistle. Four-year olds are getting an early start to their education. A move lawmakers say is much needed for these kid's success.

"When children are learning at an early age when they get into kindergarten and they go on. They are far more likely to succeed then those who have not had this early training," said O'Toole.

That's why they're now working to reform the state early learning system. The plan is do three things including changing governance, accountability, and transparency.

"How do I know that my dollars are being used efficiently, how I can I go online and see where my dollars are, in my local community?" asked Shan Goff.

Those are all questions Shan goff, Executive Director of Florida Office of Early Learning says taxpayers want to know.

State tax dollars fund a portion of the school readiness and voluntary pre-k programs. The programs are funded through state tax dollars and federal dollars, more than $500-million dollars.

But recent audit reports within the last 2-3 years revealed fraud in student attendance and parent eligibility.

Dominic Calabro, with the Florida Tax Watch group says a more efficient system is needed.

"Record keeping, time attendance is very poor, and we want to make sure we aren't paying for services that are not provided," said Calabro.

Calabro suggests the state purchase a card swipe system for parents to check their children in and out of a provider's facility. He says this could save the state more than $40-million dollars long term. Initially the start up would cost $10-$12 million dollars. Calabro says this would track the attendance of the students a lot better than the current record system, kept by paper.

Services more than 300 thousand children depend on, and with these changes lawmakers say they'll be able to help even more children.

"We do have a substantial list of children and we want to serve them all if we can, we may never get to all, but we certainly got to strive for it," said O'Toole.

The bill also calls for the office of early learning to now function directly under the Florida Department of Education.

Representative O'Toole says this is just one step and there's still much more work to do.

Volunteers will begin working on these issues this summer through the next legislative session.