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Educators, business leaders call for more PreK funds

A group of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, early childhood civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities today called on state lawmakers to support Governor Ivey’s push for a $24.4 million expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program. If approved by the state legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 207 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 3,726 additional four-year-olds.

 

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2021 Legislative Recommendations. The Task Force released its plan in a webinar with by advocates from across the state.

 

“The ASRA Pre-K Task Force was formed in 2012 to build bipartisan support for expanding early childhood education,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “There is no question that the COVID pandemic has slowed pre-k expansion efforts. However, the COVID pandemic also affirmed how vital schools, pre-k and high-quality child care are to helping families participate in the workforce and keep our economy open. We are grateful that Governor Ivey continues to see the importance of expanding early childhood education to support our state’s short- and long-term workforce needs. We encourage legislators to invest more in First Class Pre-K so that more families can take part.”

 

In addition to increased funding, the Task Force proposed a series of recommendations to maintain the First Class Pre-K program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. For 14 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code, or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.

 

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $45,000), tiered funding (ranges from $83,304 to $96,408), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 12. Visit the Department’s website, children.alabama.gov, for additional details.

 

This year, the Task Force is also encouraging state lawmakers to support investments in child care quality. Investing in the child care infrastructure in Alabama will help prepare children for pre-k while also supporting a diverse system of quality providers for future First Class Pre-K expansion.

 

The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/2021-Pre-K-Task-Force-Recommendations/.

 

The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $126.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2020-21 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.