Some of the biggest gains will occur in Southwest Florida, where Hendry, Lee, Collier and Glades counties all will see their subsidized child-care budgets rise, Torres said.
About $300,000 of Miami-Dade’s initial losses have been diverted to Osceola County, which had twice as many children, 3,121, on a wait list as were in child care, 1,279. As a percentage of children in need of services, the number of wait-listed youngsters in the Central Florida county was higher than in Miami-Dade. But as the largest county in the state, Miami-Dade’s wait list dwarfed those of other counties.
Susan Sunka, the director of Osceola’s Early Learning Coalition, said all Florida counties were in the same unfortunate boat, fighting for scarce dollars on behalf of their children. “We are all grossly underfunded,” Sunka said. “To have to pit ourselves against each other when we are all underfunded is pretty sad,” Sunka said.
Administrators in Miami fear the spending cuts may force some day-care centers to go out of business as they see their income decline. “A lot of [child-care] providers are concerned that they will have to close their doors and that this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Torres said.
Mel Jurado, director of Florida’s Office of Early Learning, said lawmakers left the program with a kind of Sophie’s Choice: in order to improve funding for some growing counties, they would have to remove it from others.
“It is non-negotiable. It’s the law. It’s what we were mandated to do,” Jurado said of the requirement that spending be based on an “equity” formula. “It’s beyond my control.”
“I do not, in any way, diminish the need, or the challenges we face,” said Jurado, a former chair of Hillsborough County’s Early Learning Coalition. “The worst news you can ever deliver is that you can’t meet every need.”