In Duval County, many child care centers are filled with employees who are unable to teach children during the critical early development years.
It's largely because many make barely more than minimum wage, and many don't get benefits. In fact, fast-food restaurant workers often make more money. The low wages result in a revolving door of people who are hired to care for and educate the city's children.
For those who do stay, there is little training required. A teacher must have 40 hours in the first year and 10 each year after. By comparison, nail technicians need 240 hours and barbers need 1,200.
Tracking those factors - compensation, turnover and training - is a priority in some states, but not in Florida.
That leaves parents with little means to judge Duval County's 839 child care providers. The state shows which centers have been accredited by agencies with varying requirements, but few Duval centers are accredited. There's no program that tracks the quality of learning in all Duval centers.
Duval County's Guiding Stars program does rate the quality of care and learning in centers. But the program is voluntary and the $7.6 million budget is only enough to reach less than a third of the children in paid care.
The state requires that children who use federal or state subsidy money be placed in centers that can help prepare them for school. The children are among those considered most at risk to struggle in school later, but Duval County child care centers that accept subsidies are only required to meet a minimal quality standard. And the money used to help ensure at least minimal quality hasn't substantially changed for years.
Although parents are a child's first and most important teachers, many children spend much, if not most, of their waking hours at child care centers while parents work. High-quality child care, beginning when children are just weeks old, can have a positive, lasting impact, providing them with stronger social skills and better reading and math skills.
From the moment children are born, positive interactions with adults will help build self-esteem, encourage their curiosity and help them respect and cooperate with others. They also will need to begin building the kind of comprehension skills that thousands of students in Duval County public schools struggle with when they start taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests.
But many of Jacksonville's child care centers are filled with teachers with no more than a high school diploma, if that, and who lack much early learning training.
And incorporating learning into a small, privately owned business isn't easy.
The state doesn't require child caregivers to take any training before they start working in a center. They have three months before they must begin at least 40 hours of training within a year.
In the last three years, about 25 centers offered Guiding Stars support have either declined the services or started the program and then dropped out, according to the Early Learning Coalition.
It's more time consuming as directors have to work harder to train and maintain staff, communicate more with parents and open their centers to more oversight.
Read the full Florida Times Union story (City of Hope 2011) at http://bit.ly/q1IWSC
About this Study
Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is completing its latest community inquiry, Children 1-2-3: Early Learning for Future Success. This community engagement process has been examining the question, "How can Jacksonville best foster early learning success for children from birth to age 3 in our community?" Over the course of the process (October 2011 through April 2012), the meeting schedule, meeting summaries, key handouts and relevant articles have all been posted here. To find out more, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.