The non-profit Early Learning Coalition, (ELC) which has been providing early education opportunities for Florida children since 1999, is changing up the way it does business in Monroe County.
Like many other ELCs throughout the state, ELC of Miami-Dade/Monroe, is preparing to offer its services directly to the public, bypassing Wesley House Family Services, whose offices the ELC worked out of.
Beginning on July 1, the ELC Miami-Dade/Monroe, which receives its operating budget in the form of a block grant from the federal government, will administer both its School Readiness Program, for low-income families, as well as its Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program, out of three new offices in the Keys.
In Key Largo, the ELC will operate out of the Pink Plaza, 103400 Overseas Hwy., Suite 232. In Marathon, the group will share space with Keys Area Health Education Center, at 5800 Overseas Hwy., Suite 36, in Gulfside Village. And in Key West, ELC is moving to the Professional Building, 1111 12th St., Suite 206.
The relationship with Wesley House isn't going away completely, however. The ELC will still cut checks to the Inez Martin Child Development Center, which is one of a number of educational day care service providers ELC contracts with throughout the Keys.
"Over the years we haven't seen many increases in funding, and we have waiting lists in both counties, so our board decided to do what 21 of the 31 ELCs in the state have done," said Evelio Torres, the Chief Executive Officer of ELC Miami-Dade/Monroe. "Which is, to start providing the services ourselves. It's not that Wesley House wasn't doing a good job. It's just that there have been some duplication of services, and employees. We've decided to streamline the process by doing it this way."
So far, the decision to repatriate the service providing has resulted in savings of $400,000 in the local ELC budget for fiscal year 2013-14. This is money that Torres said will be put back into child care in the county, as per the wishes of the local advisory committee, which exists to provide a counterweight to the decision makers in the Miami headquarters.
Local attorney Alan Eckstein, a long-time advocate of early childhood education, and retired ELC board member, welcomed the move.
"Anything that channels more dollars into early education is a good thing," said Eckstein, who also serves on the local ELC advisory committee. "This is really important. Children yearn to learn, so quality education for those aged 0 to 5 is extremely important. If you put the dollars in on the front end, you save a ton of money on the back end, in terms of juvenile delinquency, and crime, and prison, and all kinds of things. Providers like Inez Martin are focused on quality education, so the kids aren't being warehoused, they're learning."
Torres echoed Eckstein's sentiments.
"We're trying to reach more kids with fewer resources," he said. "It's all about making sure that when they enter kindergarten, they are ready to learn."
For more information on the Early Learning Coalition's services in the Keys, as well as their hours of operation, call 305-296-5557.