Community Pre-K Toolkit
Expanding access to high-quality pre-k in your community is as easy as 1, 2, 3! Contact the Alabama School Readiness Alliance for help with any of these steps, and more! We have also listed some examples of successful local pre-k initiatives below.
1. Assess the landscape
Start by pulling together all the relevant stakeholders and data that you need. Is there an existing county-level Children’s Policy Council, local chamber of commerce or community education foundation that you can work with to convene partners? Also consider inviting representatives from the following stakeholder groups: child care, Head Start, K-12 (superintendent, pre-k director, federal policy director, school board members or elementary principals), local government (city and county levels), and state government (your State Senator(s) and/or Representative(s) and the regional director for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program), philanthropy (your local community foundation, family foundations, etc.), parents, and business leaders. As we did at the state level, you can also invite representatives from the medical and legal communities, and other fields, to round out your coalition. Build a big tent!
Once you have pulled together interested and relevant stakeholders, share the data on pre-k access in your community. You can find the percentage of children served by Alabama’s state-funded, high-quality First Class Pre-K program by county, as well as the total number of four-year-olds in each county, in the Alabama Kids Count Data Book, published annually by VOICES for Alabama’s Children.
2. Decide on a pre-k access goal and timeline
Once you have gathered stakeholders and assessed pre-k access in your community, it’s time to set goals for pre-k expansion. Learn how ASRA did this at the state level by reading our Pre-K Task Force recommendations, which lay out a ten-year timeline for the expansion of Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program to all four-year-olds by the 2022-2023 school year.
With the right stakeholders, goals and strategies, you can reach “pre-k for all” in your community even before the state does. First, set a goal for what “pre-k for all” looks like in your county or city. Based on data from other states, we estimate that the statewide take-up rate for “pre-k for all” will be 70 percent of Alabama's four-year-olds. However, if your community does not have many other existing high-quality preschool options for four-year-olds, you might want to shoot for 80 percent access to First Class Pre-K, or higher!
Next, set an actionable timeline for getting to “pre-k for all” in your community. How many years will it take to reach your access goal, and how many additional First Class Pre-K classroom grants can your community reasonably apply for each year? Discuss how you want the classrooms distributed in a mixed delivery system to maximize parent choice (First Class Pre-K can be provided in public schools, child care settings, nonprofit community programs, Head Start and other settings). Do you want to prioritize areas of high need in your community (for example, do you want to target "failing" schools and their surrounding neighborhoods, or public housing developments)? Develop a plan with your stakeholders for how many classrooms to add each year, in which settings and locations, and start mapping out strategies for reaching your goals.
3. Get to work!
Here are some strategies you can use to reach your local pre-k expansion goals (you might want to assemble committees to tackle each individual strategy):
- Spread the word: Raise public awareness of the importance of pre-k (and your goal for pre-k expansion) through local media events, opinion-editorials, and social media. Consider naming and branding your local pre-k initiative and creating a website and social media handles. Work with local programs, services and churches to share pre-k registration information with parents. Host a pre-k registration fair (include activitites for the kiddos and free developmental screenings).
- Maximize pre-k expansion through your local school systems: Meet with local superintendents and school board members to find out how many First Class Pre-K classrooms can be added in your local public schools. Connect school leaders with First Class Pre-K regional staff and assist school leaders in applying for First Class Pre-K grants. Identify and help navigate any barriers to expansion in the school system. For example, school leaders might want help raising funds for startup costs or matching funds for First Class Pre-K grants, facilties or transportation. Consider engaging local businesses to help with costs or raising revenue through a local ballot initiative.
- Assist community-based providers with applying for First Class Pre-K grants: Local child care centers, preschools, nonprofits (such as YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs), private schools, university lab schools and Head Start providers can all apply for Alabama First Class Pre-K grants just like public schools. They might need a little help getting familiar with First Class Pre-K guidelines and navigating the grants process. Consider hosting a forum for local providers and invite the regional director for First Class Pre-K to share information about the program. Then, organize a grant training session to go over grant guidelines and grant writing tips. In Central Alabama, the Bold Goals Early Learning Action Network went a step further and provided on-the-ground technical assistance to child care centers applying for First Class Pre-K funding. The results? The effort has successfully helped child care centers apply for First Class Pre-K grants, become licensed, and improve quality.
- Identify additional sources of funding: all types of providers may need help with startup or quality improvement costs before applying for Alabama First Class Pre-K grants from the state. And, your local providers may also need help raising and sustaining the local matching funds (25 percent) required for First Class Pre-K grants. This can be particularly challenging for cash-strapped local school systems that need to identify matching funds for a large number of First Class Pre-K classrooms. Once you have determined the need (and set a goal) for local pre-k funding, ask local businesses, private foundations, and your city council or county commission to chip in. Or, as the Birmingham School Board did, you can even take the matter to the ballot box to ask voters to approve additional revenue.
Examples of Community Pre-K Initiatives
The Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative began in 2005 with a local Pre-K Task Force appointed by Mayor Walter Maddox and the City Council. The Task Force established partnerships between the City of Tuscaloosa, The University of Alabama, Stillman College and members of the Tuscaloosa business community and evolved into the Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative, which now serves four-year-olds in 26 pre-k classrooms in the Tuscaloosa City Schools. The classrooms are supported with a combination of city, federal and state investments, including more than $140,000 that has been raised over the years through the annual Mayor’s 5K for Pre-K.
Tuscaloosa Pre-K Initiative
Morgan County Starting Strong
Starting Strong is a collaborative, community-wide initiative focused on expanding access to quality pre-k programs and increasing the availability of kindergarten readiness information for all families throughout Morgan County, Alabama. Starting Strong is a partnership between the Decatur-Morgan Chamber of Commerce, Decatur-Morgan County's Minority Development Association, The United Way of Morgan County, the Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, local school systems and community-based pre-k providers. The team advocates, applies for First Class Pre-K grants and fundraises to expand access to high-quality pre-k all children in Morgan County. With the addition of five classrooms in 2013-2014 academic year, five classrooms in the 2014-2015 year and five classrooms in the 2015-2016 year, approximately 260 young people have voluntary access to Pre-K programming due to the efforts of the initiative.
Bold Goals targets kindergarten readiness in Central Alabama
The Early Learning Action Network of Bold Goals Education works to ensure all children are ready to learn when they start kindergarten. To achieve this goal, the Early Learning Action Network is helping more communities have access to Alabama First Class Pre-K Classrooms through a community-based expansion pilot project.
Through this project, the Early Learning Action Network has assembled a cohort of community-based private childcare centers. Members of the cohort commit to working with the Network to assess the quality of their centers, make improvements if necessary, and ultimately apply for public funding through First Class Pre-K.
Click here for more on Bold Goals.
Montgomery Education Foundation supports community providers
For more than three years, the Montgomery Education Foundation (MEF) has supported and coordinated the development of 21 high-quality pre-k classrooms across the county. Through MEF's advocacy and support, a unique model has been created that brings a variety of pre-k providers together in partnership to provide high-quality pre-k utilizing the state's First Class Pre-K standards and guidelines. Partners include Montgomery Public Schools, First Class Pre-K, Head Start, Success By Six, the Family Guidance Center and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, MEF began hosting a series of forums to exchange information about First Class Pre-K with prospective providers from the community’s private non-profit, for-profit and faith-based preschool providers.
Orange Beach parent brings classroom to a former "pre-k desert"
After finding out that no First Class Pre-K program existed in her community, Orange Beach parent Jeanna Bulman worked with a coalition of local parents and city officials to successfully submit an application to bring a First Class Pre-K classroom to Orange Beach Elementary School. Bulman and other parents in the community also worked closely with Parent VOICES for Pre-K and the Alabama School Readiness Alliance to advocate for the $10 million increase in state pre-k investments that made pre-k expansion possible in 2015. The city is providing matching funds for the First Class Pre-K classroom grant and the Erie Hall Meyer Foundation and State Representative Steve McMillan are providing funding for a new, age-appropriate playground at the site. The new classroom serves 18 four-year-olds that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to attend a high-quality pre-k classroom within their city limits.
Tri-City (Bessemer, Midfield and Fairfield) Pre-K Center
Forest Hills Community Development Center, also known as the "Tri-City Pre-K Center," is a collaborative early learning center in Fairfield established in 2014 by the Bessemer, Fairfield and Midfield school systems in Jefferson County. In 2015, Forest Hills welcomed an additional partner to its facility, the faith-based Foundations Early Learning and Family Center.