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Parents encouraged to look into free VPK programs


CLAY COUNTY – “Free” is such a catchword that I must stop to check it out when I see it.

My name is Brenda Card, and I am the director of a childcare center in Orange Park. If you have a child(ren), grandchildren, or have family or friends who have children, then this “free” could be for them.

First, a childcare center must qualify to provide voluntary pre-kindergarten, the VPK program. A childcare center with the certification to become a VPK provider, you as a child’s guardian, can enroll with a certification for 540 hours of free childcare in a school year program. At the center where I’m the director, we offer VPK from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 am. We try to use the same calendar days of operation as the local elementary school uses for the VPK program. We have found that this schedule helps guardians with elementary school children.

The next question should be, “What would qualify my child to be enrolled in this program?” If your child is a Florida resident and will be four on or before Sept. 1, they qualify to start the program in August. Residence documentation and date of birth are required and can be uploaded online at familyservices.floridaearlylearning.com. Click on voluntary pre-kindergarten.

Some centers and your early learning coalition on the website will help you if you are having problems. Of course, education starts at home, and there is no substitute for it. Still, the foundation to begin elementary school through the education they get from home and the VPK program can help your child become more confident with their abilities.