The Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program – or VPK – is a FREE prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds who reside in Florida. Participation in a Pre-K program can help prepare a child for success in elementary school and beyond. Children practice age-appropriate skills as they play to help them learn to follow directions, be attentive, work with classmates, recognize letters and numbers, and more.
The State of Florida pays for 1 year of VPK attendance per child, and all 4-year-olds are eligible, regardless of family income. Details regarding the types of providers, VPK options, and how to apply can be found below.
FAQ’s about VPK in Florida
How to apply for Florida VPK Programs
This is where we get into the nitty-gritty of how to actually get your child signed up for VPK in Florida – specifically in Lakeland, Winter Haven, and all of Polk County. (If you live in a different county, contact your Early Learning Coalition for more information – you must apply in the county where you live).
Florida VPK providers include public elementary schools, local charter schools, private preschools, and religious-affiliated preschools. There are 2 steps to getting enrolled – getting a VPK Voucher and signing up for a VPK Program.
Step 1 – 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 can begin this process on January 1 of the year you plan for your child to start VPK. You will need the documents listed below in electronic format to submit with your online application.
- One Proof of Florida Residence – Examples include: utility bill (electric, gas water), cable bill, home phone bill, Pay stub, driver’s license, ID Card, etc. – full list can be found in the application
- One Proof of Child’s Age – Examples include: Original or certified copy of the child’s birth record filed according to law with the appropriate public officer, Passport or certificate of the child’s arrival in the United States, Immunization record signed by a public health officer or licensed practicing physician – full list can be found in the application
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).
Step 2 – Find a VPK Provider + Apply
In addition to applying for a VPK Certificate (Step 1 above) you must also apply and be admitted to a VPK Program. There are multiple locations for VPK and our goal is to help you understand where, when, and how to apply. Here are the options for VPK Programs in Polk County:
Polk County Public Schools VPK Programs
VPK (Voluntary PreK) is currently offered at 23 elementary school sites throughout Polk County. Any child residing in Polk County can apply to attend VPK at one of these sites. Polk Schools VPK Programs are either a free half-day OR full-day with parent co-pay, it varies by location.
Title 1 PK is a federally funded full-day preschool program for 4-year-old children residing in select Title 1 school zones. There are currently 21 sites in Polk County. Due to strict funding guidelines for Title 1 PreK programs, only children residing in that school’s zone can apply to attend a Title 1 PK program. All Title 1 PK programs are a full day with no additional cost.
Title 1 PK vs. VPK Designation: Title 1 provides additional funding for supplemental academic support to schools with a high percentage of poverty. Schools are assessed each year to ensure that low-income, at-risk students have access to preschool programs. A school previously designated as a VPK may now be a Title 1 PK, and vice versa.
Not all elementary schools in Polk County have a VPK or Title 1 PK program. If your zoned school does not have either of these programs, you can still apply for a VPK program at a nearby elementary school, or Head Start if you are eligible. Call the Polk PreK office at (863) 648-3051 if you need assistance identifying your closest VPK program.
How to apply:
If you would like for your child to attend VPK at your zoned school or another school, you must apply beginning in the spring of the year your child is eligible to attend in the fall. Visit the PCPS Preschool website to apply. Please note that there is limited space for Polk Preschool VPK and the completion of an application does not guarantee a spot.
NEW in 2022 – The Polk Preschools VPK and Title 1 PK application process has changed and is now entirely online.
Applications are accepted on the PCPS Preschool website beginning in March each year. There is now an application window of approximately 1 month to ensure that all families have an opportunity to apply for VPK or Title 1 PK. Applications will be sorted by zoned school and applicants top choices and then processed. Parents who apply during the initial application window will be notified in April. Parents can also submit an application after the original priority application window, open spaces will be filled throughout the year.
Editor’s Note – in previous years, applications were accepted in person at the Preschool office and processed in the order they were received, so families lined up really early in the morning on the first day to submit applications. The application process has been completely revamped and there are no more early lines or rush to apply on the day applications are available.
The Polk Preschool VPK and Title 1 PK application includes the following information:
- Year – Be sure to select the correct application year, the current school year and future school year will both be open for applications during certain times of the year.
- Program Options – you will select from 1 of these 3 choices:
- Half Day – Covers 3 hours at no cost, select your preference for AM or PM
- Full Day – Cost is $12 per day
- Title 1 PK – Covers full day at no cost, only available for those in the school zone
- Location – you will select your top 3 choices for locations
- Required Documentation – be sure you have all of the following ready in electronic format:
- Original VPK Certificate of Eligibility (issued for Polk) – Must be signed and dated (lines #18 & #19) to be considered as completed (STEP 1 above)
- Copy of child’s birth certificate (not hospital record)
- Parent/Guardian picture ID
- Proof of Residence #1
- Proof of Residence #2
TIPS BEFORE YOU APPLY:
1) Identify your zoned school and determined if it is a Title 1 school, VPK, or neither. The application does NOT identify if you are in a certain VPK or Title 1 PK Zone based on address – you will need to do this research yourself.
2) Select up to 3 schools (2 are required). The easiest way we found is to View the application and select between Full Day, Half Day, or Title 1 PK, it will narrow down the list of schools for you. This is helpful in determining your top 3 choices.
3) Be sure your documents are in electronic format and ready to upload before you start the application.
Private Preschools + Charter Schools
The VPK application mentioned above is ONLY for locations at Polk County Public Schools. If you are interested in attending VPK at a private preschool, church preschool, Montessori preschool, McKeel preschool or other charter school, you will have to contact each school directly – they all have their own application process and may only accept applications for a limited window each year.
A note regarding charter schools – while these are free public schools, they are only free for grades K-12. If you are interested in attending VPK or preschool at a charter school you will likely pay for wraparound care outside of the ~3 hours covered by VPK.
Unfortunately, we’ve heard from a lot of moms and dads lately that it is difficult to find a preschool with openings. Our best advice is to get on the waitlist as soon as possible if you have a specific preschool in mind (most private providers will allow you to join the waitlist prior to applying for your VPK certificate) and be prepared to make phone calls.
Resources to help locate a VPK near you:
- The Early Learning Coalition is a great resource in your child care search. The ELC website has helpful guidelines on picking a provider as well as a list of VPK programs by city, and you can also call for current availability and assistance with childcare payments.
- Florida Child Care Search – The Florida Department of Children and Families has a database of all licensed child care providers in Florida. We recommend using it on a desktop to fully take advantage of the search features. You can search by zip code or city (recommended), and then use the filter bar to narrow down your search if you need VPK, a provider that accepts School Readiness, full day, food served, etc.
- Lakeland Moms Facebook Group – Join the group and search past posts for recommended daycares, preschools/VPK, or post with what age and location you’re searching for.
- Childcare, Preschool & VPK Guide – We have a list of reader recommended and self submitted childcare providers in our directory, but it is not comprehensive, there are many more that have not yet been added (there are almost 400 licensed sites in Polk County).
Remember that not all preschools for 4 year olds accept VPK certificates. You can use the links above (Polk ELC and Florida DCF) to find VPK providers, and the most accurate source will be to ask the facility if they accept VPK certificates.
PreK for Students with Disabilities
PreK ESE Programs are also available at select Polk County schools. Visit the Polk Schools ESE PreK website for more information on screening and other FAQ’s.
A child who has an IEP and is age-eligible for VPK can also choose Specialized Instructional Services Providers (VPK-SIS) instead of a traditional VPK Program. SIS can provide specific therapy including speech therapy, physical or occupational therapy, ABA services, and more from a certified or licensed professional.
Benefits of early education and the VPK program
Participation in a Pre-K program can help prepare a child for success in elementary school and beyond. Research has shown that 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.
For additional information on Polk County’s VPK programs, call the Early Learning Coalition office at (863) 577-2450 and their helpful staff can answer any questions and walk you through the process.
For more information on VPK in Polk County: Early Learning Coalition website
For information on VPK from the State of Florida:Office of Early Learning website
Check out our Childcare Guide for Lakeland + Polk County for other childcare topics including preschools, daycare, VPK, after school care, school holiday camps, and more.