Friday, February 3, 2012

Who Will Take Care of Florida’s Young Children after the Bell Rings?

There is currently a committee bill before the Florida House of Representatives (School Readiness Act, Section 411.0102) that threatens the well-being of tens-of-thousands low-income children, reduces the ability of parents to work extended hours, and potentially increases the burden on other state and federal subsidies. Among other things, the bill would eliminate subsidized afterschool services for over 32,000 low-income children ages 6, 7, and 8. These children would be unenrolled from their afterschool programs with few, if any, safe alternatives - a scenario with devastating impacts on our children’s education, our educational system, and our economy.

Nearly 25 percent of Florida’s K-12 youth are already responsible for taking care of themselves after school, and this bill could significantly increase that number. Children left alone afterschool spend an average of 15 hours per week unsupervised with little personal and academic enrichment. Research indicates these children are more likely to commit crimes, become involved with gangs, experiment with drugs and alcohol, and drop out of school. Fortunately, research also shows that participation in quality afterschool programs protects children and communities from such negative outcomes. Indeed, compared to non-participants, students in structured afterschool programs have higher standardized math and reading assessment scores, higher self-esteem and self-efficacy, higher graduation rates, and an increased likelihood to become productive citizens.

Not only will the proposed School Readiness Act negatively impact the quality of life for Florida’s children, but reduced productivity and employability of the affected parents will have staggering economic impacts on families, businesses, and communities. For instance, research has shown that parents whose children are not in afterschool programs missed an average of eight days of work per year, as compared to three days per year for parents whose children are in afterschool programs. Across Florida families impacted by the proposed bill, this equates to the potential loss of 1.3 million work hours. Another study found parental concern about children's safety during afterschool hours increases worker stress, increases counterproductivity, and can cost businesses over $300 billion annually in lost job productivity.

If the School Readiness Act should pass, several questions would remain unanswered. How do legislators expect 6, 7, and 8-year-olds to take care of themselves afterschool? How will Florida businesses recover billions in losses secondary to parental worry, lost productivity, and higher absenteeism? What is the actual financial impact to taxpayers and state agencies, particularly with the likelihood of increased reports to the Abuse Hot Line due to children being left unsupervised afterschool? Ultimately, it seems the significant and detrimental human and financial costs in the aftermath of the proposed School Readiness Act will far outweigh any short-term benefits of tightening our state budget.

Certainly, we understand the Florida Legislature has a limited budget and that cuts to programs will be unavoidable. However, funding for afterschool services for young children must not be eliminated for the sake of our children, their families, our communities, our economy and the future of our state.

- Larry Pintacuda, Chief Executive Officer, Florida Afterschool Network (

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