Going into the 2015 legislative session, the United Ways of Florida focused on priority issues in the education and financial stability areas. For the first time ever, the statewide network pushed a proposal that would help replicate the success of our own RealSense initiative by investing $1.2 million to expand capacity of free tax preparation and financial literacy services statewide. Although the proposal did not get far in the process, we were encouraged by the feedback we got from several legislators and community partners. We will be seeking to advance this proposal again in the coming legislative session, set to begin in January.
In addition, we worked to increase funding to expand Help Me Grow, a program administered through our 2-1-1 initiative that promotes early detection of developmental and behavioral problems in children, and links parents with needed local resources. Instead, it took a small cut of $120,000 for a total appropriation of $1.88 million.
Other priorities included adding additional funding to the state’s Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) and School Readiness programs, and maintaining funding for an Early Learning Performance Pilot that passed last year and was designed to incentivize and assess quality improvements among Florida’s School Readiness providers. As this was a difficult budget year, early learning services only saw an incremental increase of just $3.85 million over last year, or less than half a percent (.4%).
Because the start of the 2016 Legislative Session will be moved up to January, the United Ways of Florida Public Policy Team is already drafting next year’s Legislative Consensus Agenda. For more information, please contact Jason Roth, Public Policy Director, at 904-390-3211.