The Alachua County School Board, funded by Head Start and the Florida Department of Education, operates directly or contracts for programs for approximately 950 children (mostly 4 years old) at 22 elementary schools, 9 child care centers, and 8 family child care homes. About 600 of these children are considered Head Start children, the others are state preschool enrollees. In fiscal year 1994, 240 Head Start children received full-day services through contracts with the county's central child care agency, Child Care Resources, Inc. Two hundred of these children were served in centers and 40 were served in homes. The children in family child care are a part of one of the School Board's two Head Start demonstration programs — the Family Child Care demonstration grant. The second program is a Family Service Center demonstration project that allows for expanded case management and social services for targeted Head Start families. Several other early childhood programs are located at the Family Service Center building, including Even Start and Florida First Start.
Alachua County has a significant concentration of children and families who live in poverty. The Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area ranks as the 4th lowest in family income in the United States, with 23.1 percent of all families in the county living below the poverty level. Approximately 42 percent of all students in Alachua County Public Schools receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, with several elementary schools near 80 percent. Many families, especially those headed by young mothers, rely on public assistance. Lack of education, limited job opportunities, and lack of child care present significant barriers to attaining self-sufficiency. Approximately 13 percent of adults in Alachua County have less than an 8th-grade education. There are not many jobs in this community and, of the jobs that are available, many are in the service sector (with low pay and minimal benefits). The major employer in the area is the University of Florida and its medical center. There is very little industry in the area, and agricultural employment is limited. Of 750 families served by the Alachua County School Board Head Start/PreK program during the 1991-1992 school year, 231 parents (31 percent) were employed full-time in Alachua County, 26 (3 percent) were employed on a part-time basis, and 27 (3 percent) were enrolled in school or in job training programs.
Although some schools serving children of students from the University of Florida have a high population of families whose native language is not English, language barriers are not a major concern in Alachua County.