Alabama Pre-K Classrooms Pass 1,000 Mark

The August start to the 2018-19 school year saw 18,720 4-year-olds enrolled in the Business Council of Alabama-supported Alabama First Class Pre-K program in 1,040 classrooms, the first time in its 18-year history that the Alabama First Class Pre-K program has had more than 1,000 classrooms.

An additional 107 classrooms were added in 33 counties this school year, enabling the state-run program to serve 32 percent of eligible 4-year-olds in all 67 counties.

According to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, which was created in 2006, more students are expected to be enrolled in voluntary pre-K by year’s end.

“This historic enrollment means that one-third of all 4-year-olds in Alabama are now enrolled in the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program – up from 28 percent last year,” said ASRA executive Director Allison Muhlendorf.

Muhlendorf estimates that at least another 19,000 would enroll if given the opportunity. “We believe 70 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds would enroll when fully funded, based on take-up rates for voluntary Pre-K in other states,” she said.

Research shows the benefit of early education.

Business Council of Alabama member Bob Powers, president of the Eufaula Agency, and co-chair of the ASRA Pre-K task force, explained the value of the First Class Pre-K program that for 12 years has been recognized as the best in the country for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“The increased funding has taken First Class Pre-K from serving 1,200 of our 4-year-olds to nearly 19,000 4-year-olds,” Powers said. “High-quality Pre-K is one of the best investments our Legislature, local communities, and schools are making.”

Powers said a quality Pre-K not only helps ensure children are ready for kindergarten but it also provides an opportunity for them to succeed when entering school. Studies and research show that Alabama’s First Class high-quality Pre-K produces tangible, positive results and for the schools in terms of performance and reduction in costs, he said.

Also serving on the Pre-K board are BCA members Jeff Coleman, 2017 chairman and president and CEO of Coleman Worldwide Moving in Dothan; Liz Huntley, an attorney with Lightfoot, Franklin & White LLC; Rhonda Mann, interim executive director, VOICES for Alabama’s Children; Caroline Novak, president A+ Education Partnership; Gail Piggott, executive director, Alabama Partnership for Children; and, Erin Stephenson, VP, client and community relations director, PNC Bank.

Urged by the BCA and others, since the 2013-14 school year, state funding for Pre-K programs in Alabama has increased from $28.5 million that year to $77.5 million in the last school year.

This year, the Legislature appropriated another $18.5 million, bringing the budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, to $96 million. This is the program’s greatest single-year increase.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance and the Pre-K Task Force are leading a campaign to encourage the Legislature to fully fund pre-K by the start of school in 2022. The ASRA estimates that $144 million is needed annually to serve every family in Alabama that wants to enroll a child.

The quality First Class Pre-K is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.The department continues early childhood readiness through the third grade.

Education teachers and Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education support staff put together their classrooms this summer. Some of these can be viewed on the ASRA’s Facebook page.

The pre-K program was featured in the Tuscaloosa News recently. The city and county school systems have 50 pre-K classrooms where students are decided by a lottery. A total of 900 children are on waiting lists in just those two systems.

The ASRA is a statewide, nonprofit coalition advocating for the expansion of high-quality, voluntary pre-K. ASRA was formed in 2006 as a joint campaign of A+ Education Partnership, Alabama Giving, Alabama Partnership for Children and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. The ASRA’s mission is to close student achievement gaps by ensuring that all children enter school ready to learn.