An additional 2,430 four-year-olds will be able to enroll in the First Class Pre-K program in 2021-22 due to the addition of 135 classrooms announced on May 18, 2021 by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. Additional classrooms will be announced in the coming months. The new classrooms were made possible by the $24.4 million funding increase approved by the Alabama legislature for the program last month.
Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance welcomed the new classroom announcement. In 2012, ASRA’s business-led Pre-K Task Force announced recommendations and a plan for expanding the voluntary program to all families in Alabama. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $151.2 million for FY 2022.
“Today’s new classroom announcement is incredible news for Alabama families, who have been hit so hard by the pandemic,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “Thanks to the sustained leadership of Governor Ivey, the Alabama Legislature, and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, our state is one step closer to providing high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it.”
In addition to its legislative advocacy, in recent years, ASRA has led outreach efforts to encourage existing preschool providers to apply for First Class Pre-K funding. In collaboration with local partners and the state, ASRA’s efforts have boosted the number of private child care providers and faith-based programs receiving state pre-k funds. Of the 135 new classrooms announced for 2021-22, nearly two-thirds were awarded to providers operating outside of a public school setting. Maintaining the “diverse delivery” of First Class Pre-K – so that it builds on and helps raise the quality of existing early learning programs – is a top priority for ASRA.
With today’s announcement, First Class Pre-K will have a total of 1,373 classrooms serving approximately 24,714 students across the state. This fall, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program will be able to enroll 41 percent of the state’s four-year-olds. ASRA estimates that this percentage is expected to increase with a second round of classroom announcements. Alabama needs to reach at least 70 percent of four-year-olds in each community for every family interested in participating to be able to enroll. States considered to provide “pre-k for all” meet or exceed this goal.
For 15 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code, or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive and needs-based application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply.
For a complete list of the new classrooms, visit https://children.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/New-Pre-K-Classrooms-2021-2022.pdf.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance 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 for Children, and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. Visit alabamaschoolreadiness.org to learn more.