Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was today named the highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the nation for the 13th year in a row. Alabama is one of only three states, along with Michigan and Rhode Island, to meet or exceed all ten of the research-based benchmarks that the independent National Institute for Early Education Research measures to determine a program’s quality.
Released today, NIEER’s 2018 State of Preschool Yearbook evaluates the quality of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs operating during the 2017-2018 school year. That year, Alabama enrolled approximately 16,884 four-year-olds. State leaders have since expanded funding for the program to extend its reach to 18,800 four-year-olds in the current school year.
NIEER also listed Alabama in its report as one of nine “States on the Move.” In its profile of Alabama, NIEER highlighted the state’s commitment to increasing funding to expand enrollment and to ensuring pay parity for pre-k teachers.
Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance welcomed the news.
“The Alabama First Class Pre-K program’s 13-year reign leading the nation in pre-k quality is unprecedented, and a testament to the teachers, coaches, and monitors who work with children enrolled in the program every day,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “We will continue to work with state leaders to encourage increased investments in the program so that more families have the opportunity to participate.”
Governor Kay Ivey also welcomed the news in a press release issued this morning. “For a child to reach their fullest potential later in life, they must first build a strong foundation. I’m proud that Alabama First Class Pre-K is once again proving to be successful in providing that solid ground for our youngest learners,” Governor Ivey said.
In addition to the First Class Pre-K program’s perennial stay at the top of quality rankings, ASRA also points to continuing research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to demonstrate the impact state investments in pre-k are making in improving student outcomes. The PARCA/UAB team 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. This study currently reviews student assessment scores through the seventh grade, and researchers plan to continue their evaluations as students progress through high school.
“We wish more states followed Alabama’s example of expanding pre-k enrollment with adequate funding, high quality, and demonstrated effectiveness,” said NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett, Ph.D. “Research finds the program yields long-term gains in achievement. If the state continues to invest, all Alabama’s young children can benefit in the near future.”
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force is encouraging lawmakers to approve a $25 million expansion of the First Class Pre-K program. Governor Ivey included this expansion in her Fiscal Year 2020 education budget. If appropriated by the state legislature, the proposed funding increase would open as many as 240 additional classrooms next year and help bring the total number of First Class classrooms statewide close to 1,300.
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. Across the state, there are 1,045 Alabama First Class Pre-K classroomslocated in various public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, and other community-based preschool settings. However, that is only enough classrooms to enroll approximately 32 percent of four-year-olds across the state.