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Bills would "dismantle" early learning programs, advocates say

Early learning advocates came to Tallahassee on Wednesday to oppose several bills moving through the Florida House.

Their chief concern: HB 7119, which would revise the School Readiness Act. They say the proposal would water down the state's high standards for school readiness providers -- and prescribe a one-size-fits-all model to Early Learning Coalitions across Florida.

"What is at stake here is making genuine progress in helping children to succeed in school and life," said David Lawrence Jr., chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.

Evelio C. Torres, the president and CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, said the coalitions need flexibility to meet the unique needs of their communities. He noted that even Miami-Dade and Monroe have different needs.

"This is an all-out attack from Tallahassee on local communities," Torres said.

HB 7119 and several other bills were filed in response to an audit of the state's Office of Early Learning that found possible instances of fraud and waste.

On Wednesday, the early learning advocates said they were more comfortable with a conforming bill by Sen. David Simmons that enacts some reforms, but maintains the educational standards. The group also praised efforts by Rep. Marti Coley to preserve high quality programs.

Said Lauren Faison, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region: "We are hopeful that any legislative changes that do stick will preserve quality, local control and our ability to serve our families."