Officials say enrollment in VPK this Summer is down more than 30% compared to previous years.By Casey Albritton

TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Hillsborough County Public Schools says its enrollment for voluntary pre-kindergarten is down compared to previous years following the pandemic.

Officials say enrollment in VPK this Summer is down more than 30% compared to previous years. A number that could mean many students won’t be ready for Kindergarten or could fall behind.

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Amanda Osorio, Hillsborough County Schools Early Childhood Curriculum Supervisor says “There is a group coming into Kindergarten right now who very honestly may have never stepped into a brick and mortar classrooms before so Kindergarten might be their first experience.”

It’s a group of children who have started their early eduction in the middle of a pandemic and had to attend pre-school online.

“I think there’s a richness in an interaction that can come from students in the classroom having a face-to-face experience,” said Osorio.

That’s why Hillsborough County Public Schools is encouraging parents to enroll their children in voluntary pre-Kindergarten.

Kevin Kastner, Principal of West Tampa Elementary School, says it’s important for children to go to school in-person.

“We did the best we could with E-Learning and I know that we have teachers who do a phenomenal job, with kids but you can’t replicate relationships and social interactions online,” said Kastner.

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Hillsborough County Schools Officials say before the pandemic, their VPK enrollment was up to 800 kids over Summer, now that number is down to 500.

“We did have a decline last year. A little bit of a decline during the school year because of COVID-19 and E-Learning,” said Osorio.

Earlier this year the district experienced an $80 million budget deficit. After fixing that issue, leaders say any opportunity to receive money to prevent another deficit in the future is important, and for each child enrolled in VPK, the district receives about $23.

Sandra Show, Supervisor of VPK, says “That’s money that is reimbursing and helping to pay for salaries for teachers and para-professionals.”

District leaders say it’s important to give your child time in a classroom before kindergarten so they aren’t overwhelmed by the transition.

“We’re able to learn how they learn best. We’re able to identify any special needs they might have and we are able to accelerate those kids learning,” said Kastner,

Registration for Summer VPK is still open.

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District leaders say toys and learning materials are being disinfected regularly in classrooms and parents are more than welcome to send their child to VPK with a mask if it makes them feel more comfortable.