33 percent of Manatee County children not ready for school, officials say

MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners expressed concern Tuesday after discovering roughly 33 percent of county children are not ready for kindergarten.

About 17,417 youngsters from birth to age 4 live in Manatee County, according to statistics reviewed by the commission at the county administration building.

That's 5 percent higher than the statewide number of 28 percent found "not kindergarten ready," according to 2012-13 statistics presented during a workshop on county programs to help children.

"We're worse than the state average," said Brenda Rogers, director of the county Community Services Department, which oversees about 65 programs for needy children.

Within 30 days of beginning school, every kindergartner takes a "readiness" test, which measures skills such as alphabet recognition

or whether he or she can write their name, said Jennifer Radebach of the Manatee County Children's Services Advisory Board.

School readiness statistics in the board's draft annual plan were based upon test results, she said.

"There needs to be greater collaboration between the schools and the agencies running these programs," said Manatee County School Board member Karen Carpenter, who is also a member of the children's services advisory board.

The plan is to set funding goals and priorities for six categories, including school readiness; family strengthening and support; out-of-school time; prevention and redirection; crisis stabilization; and maternal and child health.

The board wants to improve the health and welfare of abused, neglected, at-risk and economically disadvantaged children in Manatee County.

About $8 million in fiscal year 2014-15 was generated by a dedicated tax collected by the county and earmarked to benefit needy children and families, according to Andy Guyre, county human services division manager.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.