Alabama Legislature Approves $16 Million Pre-K Expansion
April 21, 2016
MONTGOMERY — Alabama state lawmakers today unanimously approved a historic, $16 million expansion of the state’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program.
The final Fiscal Year 2017 Education Trust Fund Budget increases funding for the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program from $48.5 million to $64.5 million. Along with funding from year two of Alabama’s four-year federal Preschool Development Grant, the $16 million increase would help open approximately 155 additional classrooms and help enroll approximately 2,800 more four-year-olds than the current school year. This should increase the total number of students in the program to approximately 14,500 four-year-olds statewide. The percentage of Alabama four-year-olds enrolled will increase from 20 to 25 percent.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance and its Pre-K Task Force applauded the bill’s passage.
“We are grateful that state lawmakers have once again made the expansion of Alabama’s nationally acclaimed First Class Pre-K program a top priority in the Education Trust Fund budget,” said Allison Muhlendorf, the executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “As a direct result of our legislators’ actions today, more Alabama families will have the option to enroll their child in a high-quality First Class Pre-K classroom next school year than ever before.”
For nine-years in a row, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, which is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, has been ranked the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. However, even with the approved expansion, there will only enough classrooms to reach 1 in 4 Alabama four-year-olds in the 2016-2017 school year.
The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama analyzed student achievement through the 6th grade and found that First Class Pre-K alumni consistently outperformed their peers in reading and math. PARCA also found that First Class Pre-K closed the achievement gap for participating low-income students by 25 percent.
The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of 51 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities. The task force is in year four of its ten-year campaign to advocate for full funding for the First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-2023 school year. The task force estimates that a total level of funding of $144 million is needed to ensure every family that wants to enroll their four-year-old in a First Class classroom will be able to do so.
“Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is working and students who are able to participate are more likely to succeed in school and graduate than those who do not,” said Bob Powers, the president of the Eufaula Agency and the co-chair of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force. “It is imperative that we expand this voluntary program so that more families gain admission, and we thank lawmakers for doing their part.”
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance supports the growth of high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten. ASRA works to ensure that pre-k is a continuing priority for Alabama’s children, parents, community leaders, legislators and governing officials. ASRA is a collaborative effort of A+ Education Partnership, Alabama Giving, Alabama Partnership and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. Visit www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org to learn more.