Category Archives: Childcare, Preschool & After School Programs

Polk County’s FREE VPK Program Info {including a new law allowing delayed enrollment for later birthdates}

Polk County’s FREE VPK Program Info {including a new law allowing delayed enrollment for later birthdates}

The Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program – or VPK – is a FREE prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds who reside in Florida. A child is eligible to enroll in a free VPK program in the year they turn 4 on or before September 1, and the State of Florida pays for 1 year of VPK attendance per child. Details regarding the types of providers and different programs available can be found below.

A new law was passed in 2016 allowing parents with children born between Feb. 2 through Sept. 1 to postpone enrolling their child in VPK the year they turn 4 and wait until the following year when their child is 5.  


How to determine eligibility

Click here to see a chart that will help you determine eligibility based on your child’s birthdate.

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What types of VPK Programs are available

Parents can choose from one of several program options available from either a private or public provider. Providers have flexibility to structure the hours per day and days per week to meet the required number of instructional hours, so each program will look different – some could be 8:30-11:30, other 9-12:30, and even some that run from late morning into the afternoon. Programs are typically 3-3.5 hours each day. Many providers do have “wrap around care” which covers the remainder of the day for a fee. Some providers also require your child to attend all day at an additional cost.

  • School Year Program – 540 instructional hours. Class sizes are not to exceed 11 students when there is a single lead instructor or up to 20 students with a lead instructor and an assistant. Instructors must have a minimum of a Florida Child Care Professional Credential.
  • Summer Program – 300 instructional hours. Class sizes should not exceed 12 students with one lead instructor. Instructors must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.
  • VPK Specialized Instructional Services Education Program takes place outside a traditional classroom setting and is for 4-year-olds with special needs who have current individualized educational plans from their local school districts.

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How to find a VPK Provider

This is probably the information I see requested most often on social media – parents looking for help selecting a daycare/preschool/VPK program. While we do have a list of childcare providers who have been suggested by our readers over in our Childcare, Preschool & Afterschool Care Guide, there are SO many providers in Polk County we couldn’t begin to keep track of them all OR who provides VPK services and who does not. Plus, some have extended waiting lists while others have openings on a regular basis, so it will require some phone calls to find the right fit for your family.

VPK programs are provided at private locations, charter schools, and public schools.


How to apply for your VPK Certificate of Eligibility

Visit the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County’s website and log into the Family Portal to apply. You will need the documents listed below in electronic format to submit with your online application. The following is a list of acceptable electronic formats: .BMP, .TIFF, .PDF, .JPG, .GIF, .PNG, .DOC, .DOCX, .TXT.

  • Proof of Florida Residence – Required to determine program eligibility
    • Acceptable Proof of Florida Residence may include documentation such as: Utility bill (electric, gas water), cable, or home phone bill; Pay stub; Residential rental agreement or receipt from rental payment; Government-issued document (e.g., Florida driver’s license, Florida identification card, property tax assessment showing a homestead exemption); or Military order showing that the child’s parent is a service member in the United States Armed Forces and is assigned to duty in Florida when the child attends the VPK program
  • Proof of Child’s Age – Required to determine program eligibility
    • Acceptable Proof of Child’s age may include documentation such as: Original or certified copy of the child’s birth record filed according to law with the appropriate public officer; Original or certified copy of the child’s certificate of baptism or other religious record of the child’s birth, accompanied by an affidavit stating that the certificate is true and correct, sworn to or affirmed by the child’s parent; Insurance policy on the child’s life which has been in force for at least two years; Passport or certificate of the child’s arrival in the United States; Immunization record signed by a public health officer or licensed practicing physician; or Valid military dependent identification card.

If you are applying for VPK Specialized Instructional Services (VPK-SIS), you will also need a copy of your child’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP).

If a family does not have access to technology to access the VPK application online, contact the Early Learning Coalition of Polk County to make alternative application arrangements (click here for office locations and phone numbers – also listed below).


How to delay your application for 1 year (if you choose to)

Like we mentioned earlier, a new law was passed in 2016 allowing parents with children born between Feb. 2 through Sept. 1 to postpone enrolling their child in VPK the year they turn 4 and wait until the following year when their child is 5.  If you decide to postpone enrollment, the state still only pays for 1 year of VPK attendance.

It is simple to delay your Certificate of Eligibility – log into the Family Portal to apply, after you input your child’s birthdate, it will give you the year(s) they are eligible to apply. So birthdays between Sept. 2-Feb. 1 will be given one year to select, and birthdays between Feb. 2-Sept. 1 will be given two school years to choose from. You don’t even need to apply on your “assigned” year if you plan to delay, simply wait until the following year. (If you want to verify which school years your child will be eligible, you can create a log-in and start the process and just cancel after you input your child’s birth date.)

Note that even if your child is not eligible to delay their VPK  enrollment, at many preschools a parent can still choose to postpone starting VPK until age 5 and would be responsible for paying the full amount without any VPK funds.


What if you already applied for VPK in 2017-18 and want to delay?

The online system where families enroll for VPK (Family Portal) allows parents with eligible children to apply for either program year. If an eligible child already has a Certificate of Eligibility for their first year of eligibility and has not attended VPK yet, the parent may request to postpone VPK to the following year in the Family Portal.


Benefits of early education and the VPK program

  • The most important growth and development in the brain happens by the age of five.
  • The early years are the learning years. A child’s ability to be attentive and to follow directions emerges in the early years. Structured early learning fosters these abilities for later success in school and in life.
  • Pre-K prepares children to be ready for school. Children who participate in high-quality early childhood education programs develop better language skills, score higher in school-readiness tests and have better social skills and fewer behavioral problems once they enter school. They are also better prepared for Kindergarten, especially in the areas of pre-reading, pre-math and social skills.
  • Pre-K promotes a love of learning in children. Pre-K enhances what a child learns at home and instills a love of life-long learning.

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For more information on VPK in Polk County, visit the Early Learning Coalition website.

For information on VPK in the State of Florida, visit the Office of Early Learning website.

If you’re still not sure about your VPK options or would like additional information on Polk County’s VPK programs, call a local Early Learning Coalition office listed below, and their helpful staff can answer any questions and walk you through the process.

Lakeland OfficeWinter Haven OfficeLake Wales Office

Lakeland Office
115 S. Missouri Avenue, 2nd Floor, Suite 201
Lakeland, Florida 33815
Phone: (863) 577-2450
Toll-Free: (800) 843-9780
Fax: (863) 577-2451
Office Hours: M-F, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
(Closed on Holidays)
Services Offered: Eligibility & Enrollment, Parent & Family Resources, and Provider Support & Reimbursement

Winter Haven Office
203 Avenue A, NW, Suite 200
Winter Haven, FL 33881
Phone: (863) 508-2037
Fax: (863) 508-2038
Office Hours: M-F, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
(Office Closed for Lunch 12pm-1pm)
(Closed for Holidays)
Services Offered: Eligibility & Enrollment, Parent & Family Resources, and Provider Support

Lake Wales Office
120 SR 60 E
Lake Wales, FL 33853
Phone: (863) 676-3708
Fax: (863) 508-2038
Office Hours: M-F, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
(Office Closed for Lunch 12pm-1pm)
(Closed on Holidays)
Services Offered: Eligibility & Enrollment, Parent & Family Resources, and Provider Support

Looking for information on school enrollment for grades K-12? Check out our School Choice Guide.

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