Lost in the controversial ending to the 2022 Alabama Legislative Session was a major bipartisan achievement worth celebrating. On April 6, 2022, the Alabama Legislature gave final approval to a historic $40 million investment in quality pre-k and child care. The investments are part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Education Trust Fund budget bill, which finances education in our state.
The $22.5 million increase for First Class Pre-K, recommended by Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force, sailed through the legislative process at every step. The new funding will help add an additional 125 classrooms in the popular program, and increase access from 42 to 45 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds.
Also approved in the ETF budget legislation is a historic $17.8 million to support quality child care, recommended by ASRA’s Pre-K Task Force and championed by ASRA partner organization VOICES for Alabama’s Children. This new investment will go to Alabama DHR to support an enhanced Alabama Quality Stars Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) for child care. The program, administered in partnership with the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, has been redesigned based on research, evaluation and feedback from child care providers.
Alabama Quality Stars offers coaching, support and assessment to help child care programs improve and demonstrate quality along a one-to-five star rating system. Participating child care providers will receive payments of up to $80,000 a year, depending on their star level and licensed capacity.
In an exciting policy change last year, DHR made child care licensing an automatic first star in Quality Stars. This means that all licensed providers will receive a much-needed funding boost from the program.
The new investment in Quality Stars is an acknowledgement by Alabama lawmakers that child care is critical for our state’s working families, children, and economy. After all, more than 80 percent of a child’s brain is developed from birth through age three – before pre-k. And two thirds of Alabama children under the age of five have all of their parents in the workforce.
Advocates, parents and business leaders agree that investing in quality pre-k and child care is not just the right thing to do – it’s one of the smartest things we can do for the future of our state.