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VPK enrollment still not at pre-pandemic numbers

Enrollment in Palm Beach County dipped 26%
Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 17, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla — Enrollment for voluntary pre-kindergarten this fall is now open, but local programs are still seeing fewer students enroll than before the pandemic.

VPK enrollment for early learning coalition programs is down 7.5 percent compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

That might not seem like a dramatic decrease, but the impact of more than 850 students waiting out a year to enroll may be felt by those starting kindergarten in the fall.

VPK enrollment in Palm Beach County dipped 26 percent from the previous year.

Numbers are back up, but they are still not where they were before the pandemic began in 2020.

"It's understandable a scary time for parents to send their children to an environment that involves multiple people in one room close together to each other for the day," said Ali Eger, the executive director for Opportunity Early Childhood Education and Family Center in West Palm Beach.

Ali Eger, executive director for Opportunity Early Childhood Education and Family Center in West Palm Beach
Ali Eger discusses the benefits of VPK enrollment for young students.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Eger said the enrollment at her center has been more consistent.

That is a huge benefit for 4-year-olds currently enrolled.

"There's, of course, the academic piece, the phonics and simple tasks like writing their name, and those things that are expected of when they enter kindergarten, but more importantly there's the social and emotional aspect," Eger said.

Not only have studies shown the benefits of early childhood learning, but programs benefit financially. More students equal more money.

"Enrollment is really what drives their income. It absolutely affects their bottom line," said Erin Gallagher, vice president of communications and program planning at Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County.

Erin Gallagher, vice president of communications and program planning at Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County
Erin Gallagher speaks about how enrollment numbers can dictate how much funding is allocated from the federal government.

Gallagher said government funds provided based on enrollment help preschool programs pay for the following:

  • Quality teaching staff
  • Materials
  • Learning supplies
  • Day-to-day expenses

Ultimately it's a difficult decision that parents are having to make in a pandemic — to enroll in VPK or wait.

Experts in childhood education said children moving from VPK to kindergarten also reap the benefits of faster pace learning when their classmates have also attended.

The Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County said it's not too late for students to enroll in the current school year and join.

There are also summer-only VPK programs and fall enrollment that is now open.