By Jim Cook, Dothan Eagle
Early childhood education advocates visited local business leaders on Tuesday to drum up local support for efforts to extend state pre-K programs to all four-year-olds in the state.
Alabama’s First Class pre-K program ranks No. 1 in the nation, but serves only a tiny segment of the state’s four-year-olds because of limited funding. Only about six percent of eligible Alabama four-year-olds receive the First Class pre-K program. The program is delivered to students in a variety of settings, including Head Start programs, private daycares and church schools, among others.
Allison de la Torre, executive director for the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, spoke to Dothan’s Rotary Club at the Dothan Country Club Tuesday, and said the state needs about $125 million per year to fund a pre-K program that could offer free, high quality pre-K education to every eligible four-year-old in the state.
De la Torre said because up to 90 percent of a child’s intellectual development happens within the first five years of life, high quality pre-K programs are a good investment in children’s futures. De la Torre said early education can help close achievement gaps between poor and affluent students and reduce the need for remediation.
“The economy has not completely recovered,” she said. “But we believe in a tough economy you have to invest in what works.”
In Houston County, about 54 students receive services from the Alabama First Class pre-K program. About 300 students receive early childhood education from Head Start.
Jeff Coleman, CEO of Coleman World Group, said business leaders should support pre-K programs because it will help provide a better local workforce, and is a worthwhile investment of public funds. Coleman said studies show that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, costs for remediation, welfare payments and incarceration dropped considerably.
“If I can invest $1 and get $10, I’m all in,” he said. “I want some of that.”