State Lawmakers Celebrate New First Class Pre-K Grants in Tuscaloosa
October 27, 2016
More four-year-olds are able to participate in Alabama's high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program than ever before due to an increase in state funding approved by the Alabama Legislature and championed by Governor Bentley. On Monday, October 24, 2016, State Senator Gerald Allen (SD-21) and State Representative Bill Poole (HD-63) participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony welcoming pre-k students at Verner Elementary School in Tuscaloosa. Verner received two new state-funded First Class Pre-K grants as part of this year's expansion of the program to 155 additional classrooms across the state of Alabama.
Click here to view photos from the ribbon cutting and classroom tour.
Representative Poole is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee. Senator Allen is a member of Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. Both committees are responsible for setting funding levels for Alabama’s schools, including the First Class Pre-K program. The area lawmakers were joined by Jeana Ross, the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, Mayor Walter Maddox, officials from Tuscaloosa City Schools, parents and pre-k advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.
"Four-year-olds in Alabama's First Class Pre-K program are developing the early skills that will help them read proficiently by the third grade, graduate from high school, and become successful in the workforce," said State Representative Bill Poole (HD-63), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee (pictured at right). "More importantly, they will develop a love of learning and an excitement for school that will stay with them throughout their lives."
For 10 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 pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. The program receives $64.5 million in state investments (an increase of $16 million over last year), and is augmented by a federal Preschool Development Grant. There are 816 First Class classrooms across the state serving a total of approximately 14,688 four-year-olds statewide.
While 25 percent of four-year-olds in Alabama are currently served in First Class Pre-K, that figure is slightly higher (27 percent) in Tuscaloosa County. Across the county, 35 First Class classrooms are currently serving four-year-olds in public and private schools, private and faith-based child care centers, and other settings. Nineteen of those First Class Pre-K classrooms are in the Tuscaloosa City Schools, which offers a total of 28 pre-k classrooms for four-year-olds.
“High-quality, voluntary pre-k is a priority for our state and for Tuscaloosa,” said State Senator Gerald Allen (SD-21). “Our community has embraced pre-k as a critical part of our educational system. Alabama First Class Pre-K grants will help our local leaders continue their efforts to enhance and expand pre-k in Tuscaloosa.”
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance and its Pre-K Task Force are leading a ten-year campaign, now entering its fifth year, to fully fund Alabama’s high-quality and voluntary First Class Pre-K program while maintaining the program’s strong benchmarks for quality and accountability. ASRA’s Pre-K Task Force, which consists of 51 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities, first proposed expanding pre-k access to all families in 2012. The Task Force’s recommendations have been updated annually since then.
Four community leaders from the Tuscaloosa area serve on ASRA’s statewide Pre-K Task Force: retired Harco Drug Chairman and CEO Jim Harrison Jr., retired geologist Tom Joiner, retired school leader Shelley Jones and West Alabama Chamber of Commerce President Jim Page. ASRA is grateful for the financial support it receives from the Tuscaloosa-based James I. Harrison Family Foundation.
In addition to encouraging the State Legislature to fully fund First Class Pre-K, the Task Force recommendations include: continuing the “diverse delivery” of First Class Pre-K classrooms in both public and private programs, including childcare, and faith-based centers; continuing to require that all First Class Pre-K providers adhere to the program’s quality standards; and, prioritizing new classrooms for students most at risk of school failure.
“I represent 65,000 working men and women from West Alabama that care about making our region a better place in which to live and do business. Access to high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten is a vital part of that mission,” said Jim Page, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a member of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA) advocates for the expansion 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.