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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 4 months ago

Baby talk: Business leaders say state's future workforce is at risk

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Bosses for Babies group calls for Florida to step up its investment in early childhood education and child care.

The coronavirus pandemic has renewed focus on the importance of early childhood education and child care. With schools and child-care centers closed, working parents struggled to care for and educate their children at home while also trying to do their jobs effectively.  

Seeing that situation, a group of Florida business leaders calling themselves Bosses for Babies are championing the need for additional support for the state’s young children and their parents and caregivers. Led by Aakash Patel, founder and president of Elevate Inc., a Tampa-based strategic business consulting firm, the group is against cuts to early childhood education budgets, which have been slashed in recent years.

In a statement, Patel, who serves as board chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, says Florida, in 2019, spent $2,253 per child enrolled in the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. For comparison, Washington, D.C., spent $18,669 per child enrolled in VPK initiatives. Also, the Sunshine State’s budget for children enrolled in VPK programs has decreased significantly since 2008, when it spent $3,178 per student, Patel adds. 

“There are many ways business leaders can make a difference,” he says. “We can make investments of time and money in early learning. We can volunteer in child-care centers, get involved with our local Early Learning Coalitions and donate to the cause. We can advocate on behalf of early learning with lawmakers. At the state level, (we) should oppose any cuts to already meager early learning budgets and support programs that help the early learning workforce.”

Bosses for Babies’ concerns are backed up by national trends. According to a survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, two out of every five child-care centers expect to close permanently if they do not receive additional funding. Enrollment, the survey found, is down by 67% nationwide, while costs are surging for items such as cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

Patel and Bosses for Babies aren’t the only ones sounding this alarm. The Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, in conjunction with the NFL Foundation, has made child care and early childhood education the No. 1 pillar of its $2 million Forever 55 social legacy initiative.

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