201 W

(850) 222-3803
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D. M

                 May 20, 2004

The Honorable Jeb Bush
PL 05, The Capital
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Re: Urge Signing of HB 821

Dear Governor Bush:

  We urge you to sign HB 821, allowing its positive provisions to serve as a foundation to build upon next year and beyond. Though imperfect, this legislation contains strong accountability provisions for private-sector providers participating in this program. The accountability provisions, more protective of children than any other scholarship program in our state, include a requirement for literacy-based curriculum, accreditation and Gold Seal language, pupil-teacher ratios, teacher credentialing, assessments for kindergarten students and consequences for providers whose students do not score above average on measurements over a two-year period.

  We share many of the reservations expressed recently by you and other advocates of this program. Of particular concern is the reduced UPK day of 3.0 hours, the lack of a contingency plan for children to transition to an afternoon-program and transportation provisions, all of which adversely impact accessibility for poor-working parents.

  Our representative on the State UPK Advisory Council, Sr. Roberta Bailey, OSB, recommended that a UPK program provide a full 6.0 hour day. We realize that a full-day program will be a fiscal challenge, but we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the executive branch and legislative leadership for a longer day and transportation provisions so UPK will be more accessible for at-risk children.

  In this multifaceted legislation, our involvement mainly focused on protecting against the state excessively entangling itself with religious programs and assuring academic-related accountability of providers. We did not take a position on governance and funding transfers. However, if HB 821 were to become law, we would welcome the opportunity to support new revisions to provide the executive branch with the necessary authority to effectively and efficiently implement funding of the UPK program.

  If the legislation is vetoed, our great concern is that the accountability language now supported by the private providers would be jeopardized. Absent this language, their participation and ours is uncertain. Achieving this consensus last session was important ground gained because so many of the children involved will be served in these private programs. It will be best to assure these provisions remain and make other adjustments as needed.

  Governor, we urge you to allow HB 821 to become law. Please consider that a veto will likely create confusion as families register their preschool children next January and February. The UPK legislation will be uncertain at that time and providers may not know whether they will be able to participate in the program. The UPK program will be better served by keeping the good provisions in HB 821. We pledge to work with you and legislative leaders to address remaining concerns.

  Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to discussing this further.


                                                                                                        Respectfully yours,

                                                                                                     D. Michael McCarron
                                                                                                     Executive Director

cc:  Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings