The Effects of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K Program


Examining VPK’s impact on the child care market and on early childhood outcomes

Project Summary: In 2005, Florida introduced Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK), a free, universal preschool initiative. Families could enroll their 4-year-old in a 540-hour school-year program or a 300-hour summer program. The VPK program served nearly half of the state’s 4-year-olds in its first year. Today, the program is the nation’s second largest state-funded preschool program with more than three quarters of the state’s 4-year-olds attending. Florida achieved this remarkable expansion of free preschool by offering the program in variety of contexts from public and private schools to private child care centers and family day care homes.

Our study examines the effects of the implementation and expansion of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program (VPK) on the state’s child care market as well as its effects on children’s early elementary school outcomes in the years between kindergarten and third grade. Using data from the Florida Department of Children and Families, we explore whether the VPK program expanded access to preschool or whether the VPK program subsidized the preschool decisions parents would have made in the absence of the VPK program. Using quasi-experimental methods and leveraging rich longitudinal, student-level data from Florida’s K-12 Education Data Warehouse, we examine how the expansion of free preschool impacted early elementary school outcomes including grade-level retention, attendance, and third grade achievement scores. 

The results of this study will have significant impact on both early childhood research and policy for two main reasons. First, Florida’s universal pre-kindergarten program is the largest in the country and was implemented at-scale in a very unique way. It has been the subject of intense interest; yet, our analysis is the first rigorous examination of its effectiveness. Second, our analysis differs from many prior studies of state preschool programs which have focused solely on the link between pre-kindergarten participation and students’ performance on tests conducted at kindergarten entry. Our analysis isolates VPK’s effects on a set of outcomes that occur after the child has entered elementary school through the 3rd grade. This expanded focus is particularly important given that a key goal of pre-kindergarten is to influence children’s learning trajectories in elementary school.

Reports & Publications:

History of VPK:

Market Effects:

Effects of Florida’s Accountability System:

Impacts of Participation:

Presentations:

  • Miller, L.C. (February 2015). Do children benefit from widely-available public preschool? Evidence from Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program. Paper presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference in Washington, D.C.
  • Miller, L.C. (November 2014). Do children benefit from widely-available public preschool? Evidence from Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program. Paper presented at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • Galdo, E. (April 2013). The Effects of Universal State Pre-Kindergarten on the Size and Scope of the Child Care Sector:  The Case of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Program. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) conference in Seattle, Washington.
  • Bassok, D. (March 2012). The Effects of Universal State Pre-Kindergarten on the Size and Scope of the Child Care Sector: The Case of Florida’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program. Paper presented at the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) conference in Baltimore, Maryland.  
  • Miller, L.C. (November 2012). The Effects of Universal State Pre-Kindergarten on the Size and Scope of the Child Care Sector: The Case of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten Program. Paper presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference in Boston, Massachusetts.  

Funding Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Foundation for Child Development, the Smith Richardson Foundation

Relevant Links:

Associated Faculty

Non-UVA Faculty:

  • Eva Galdo, IES