We recommend incrementally expanding Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program so that all families have the opportunity to enroll their four-year-olds. We would like to reach this goal by the 2025-2026 school year, if not before then.
We support Governor Ivey’s proposal to increase state investments in First Class Pre-K by $24.4 million during the 2021 Legislative Session. We also support the $1.5 million Governor Ivey has proposed to provide a two percent raise for all Department of Early Childhood Education employees.
The additional $24.4 million would increase First Class Pre-K access from 37% to 44% of Alabama’s four-year-olds by providing access for the 3,000 children currently on waiting list. It will keep our state on track to fully fund the program to reach 70 percent of four-year-olds by the 2025-2026 school year.
In addition to increased funding for 2021-2022, our Task Force proposes the following series of recommendations to support the incremental expansion of First Class Pre-K while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. This year, we have added a recommendation that state lawmakers support investments in child care quality. Investing in the child care infrastructure in Alabama will help prepare children for pre-k while also supporting a diverse system of quality providers for future First Class Pre-K expansion.
- We recommend that additional state investments in First Class Pre-K:
- prioritize expanding access to students at-risk of school failure;
- encourage and leverage the use of local and private matching funds;
- are sustainable and based on the true costs of a high-quality program; and
- are guided by a statewide needs assessment reviewing supply (available providers, facilities, workforce) and demand (survey of Alabama parents to identify estimated participation rate) for pre-k expansion. We also encourage strategies to grow demand so that families whose children would benefit from pre-k but who don’t realize it’s importance become potential pre-k consumers.
- We support the continued use of a “diverse delivery” grant structure for First Class Pre-K that creates high-quality, state-funded pre-k classrooms in public schools, Head Start and community-based settings (such as child care, nonprofit and faith-based centers). We recommend revised strategies and policies that strategically target areas in the state with lower rates of First Class Pre-K access, and result in more First Class Pre-K programs being placed in community-based settings.
- In order to reach our pre-k expansion goal, we recommend that state lawmakers also support investments in child care quality. Investing in the child care infrastructure in Alabama will help prepare children for pre-k while also supporting a diverse system of quality providers for future First Class Pre-K expansion.
- We recommend that the Department of Early Childhood Education continue to improve coordination with other state departments in order to ensure that resources are used efficiently and that First Class Pre-K is aligned with child care improvement efforts; other early childhood and family programs; and K-12 learning standards, data systems, accountability and assessment.
- We recommend that the Department of Early Childhood Education maintain the ten quality benchmarks for First Class Pre-K measured annually by the National Institute for Early Education Research. All First Class providers must adhere to the program’s quality standards and coordinate with families and schools to facilitate children’s smooth transition into kindergarten.
- We recognize that parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. With that in mind, we recommend that First Class Pre-K continue to incorporate evidence-based best practices for meaningfully engaging and strengthening families.
- We recommend that the Department of Early Childhood Education continue efforts to enhance and measure the quality of First Class Pre-K. The quality of teaching should be regularly observed and student outcomes should be tracked over time through a high- quality, longitudinal program evaluation. This should include a a statewide kindergarten readiness assessment.
- While the state expands access to First Class Pre-K, we support local governments, private companies, charitable organizations, and other partners in their work to address school readiness gaps by investing in high-quality pre-k and other evidence-based programs that improve the outcomes of children pre-birth to age five, and their families.