Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Conversation Starter

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Quint and Rishy Studer announced their “Be the Bulb Challenge” to provide $50,000 for the best proposals to improve Escambia County’s kindergarten readiness rate.

Studer Community Institute is coordinating the program. The money will be split into two $25,000 categories. One category is for ideas from an individual or group employed by the Escambia County School District. The other will be available for an individual or group in the community.

Why are the Studers doing this?  Quint told me that their goal is to get the community talking about how a third of our kindergarteners enter school unprepared and how they struggle to catch up to their peers throughout their education.

The Studer Community has kindergarten readiness as one of 16 benchmark metrics in its Pensacola Metro Dashboard, which was developed with the University of West Florida to provide a snapshot of the educational, economic and social well-being of the community.

Escambia ranks 51st out of 67 counties in the state in kindergarten preparedness.  Research by the Studer Institute found that when 1,000 children in the county enter kindergarten unprepared, it has a domino effect on our community—lower high school graduation rate, higher teacher turnover, an increase in crime, lower wages and less money to invest in the county.

Escambia School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told the daily newspaper that the problem was even worse. One of five of those children who enter kindergarten unprepared is more than two years behind, making it virtually impossible for their teacher to get the child caught up with his peers in one school year.

Governor Rick Scott has pushed the state legislature to invest in early learning programs. In his first term, he got lawmakers to approve the first funding increase for early childhood education in the last 10 years. His 2016 proposed budget includes $1.1 billion in funding for early education in Florida. The Office of Early Learning, which oversees school readiness and voluntary prekindergarten programs in the state, would get an increase of $51.7 million over last year if the state legislature approves it.

Will improving kindergarten readiness turn our school system from a “C” district to an “A”? No, there are no silver bullets, but it will have a positive impact on our public education system.

The Escambia County School District currently has 36,594 students enrolled in grades 1-12. We need programs to help them read, write and learn on their grade levels.

“Be the Blub” is more than $50,000 in grants. It’s a conversation starter. Let’s keep the discussion going.