High-quality pre-k: An ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure (AL.com guest opinion)

April 13, 2015

AL.com Guest Opinion by Mike Luce
Co-Chair, ASRA Pre-K Task Force
Vice Chairman, Harbert Management Corporation

Click here to read on AL.com

Earlier this week the State Senate Committee on Finance & Taxation Education approved a $13.5 million increase for Alabama's First Class Pre-Kindergarten program in Senate Bill 179, the 2015-16 Education Trust Fund appropriations bill.

As a business leader that knows the importance of investing early to improve student outcomes and our future workforce, I applaud this smart move by chairman Senator Trip Pittman and committee members. The $13.5 million proposed increase for First Class Pre-K is needed to keep our state on track with the Alabama School Readiness Alliance's goal of fully funding the program by the year 2023.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance is a nonprofit coalition that advocates for the expansion of Alabama's voluntary First Class Pre-K program, which has ranked #1 in the nation for its quality for 8 years in a row.

I am proud to co-chair the Alabama School Readiness Alliance's Pre-K Task Force with Eufaula businessman Bob Powers. The Task Force is made up of 40 leaders from the business, education, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities.

The 2015-16 budget year will be the third in our Task Force's ten-year plan to fully fund Alabama's high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program so that all families that wish to enroll their children can choose to do so.

First Class Pre-K alumni consistently outperform their peers in school and have higher attendance rates, need fewer special education services and are less likely to fail a grade than those that did not attend.

Additional research has shown that children that attend high-quality pre-k programs are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, and less likely to commit a crime or rely on social welfare programs. This has led economists to estimate a return on investment of $7 for every $1 invested in high-quality pre-k.

I thank Governor Robert Bentley and the Alabama Legislature for doubling Alabama's pre-k investments over the past two years.  They have given 3,500 additional four-year-olds the opportunity to succeed in school, and in life.

Access to First Class Pre-K has doubled since 2012 from six to thirteen percent of four-year-olds statewide. Families place their children on waitlists hoping to get a coveted slot through the lottery enrollment process. Jefferson County only has enough First Class Pre-K sites to reach 9 percent of the county's four-year-olds, making it even more difficult for families to access the program locally. Madison County only has enough for 9 percent of its 4-year-olds; Mobile County 5 percent. You can see all counties here.

A $13.5 million increase for First Class Pre-K for 2015-16 would create at least 145 additional high-quality classrooms serving 2,600 four-year-olds in a diverse array of settings including child care centers, faith-based preschools, public schools and Head Start programs.

I encourage the State Senate and House of Representatives to support Senate Bill 179 with the additional $13.5 million for First Class Pre-K recommended by the Senate Committee.

Our State Legislature is grappling with so many long-term problems - soaring prison and health care costs, low graduation rates, high rates of college remediation, pressing workforce needs. 

High-quality pre-k is an ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure.