As the first month of the 2017 Alabama State Legislative Session is coming to a close, Alabama State Sen. Tom Whatley (SD-27), State Rep. Joe Lovvorn (HD-79) and members of the Opelika and Auburn city councils visited Beauregard Elementary School to learn what a $20 million expansion of the state’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program could mean for Lee County.

There are currently 816 First Class Pre-K classrooms across the state, but only eight First Class Pre-K classrooms across Lee County — including two at Beauregard Elementary School. That is only enough classrooms for eight percent of Lee County four-year-olds to participate, compared to 25 percent of four-year-olds statewide.

Whatley is a member of the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee, which will determine how much funding First Class Pre-K will receive in next year’s state budget.

“Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is number one in the nation for quality,” Whatley said. “Children who are lucky enough to participate in the program are doing better than their peers in reading and math. Unfortunately, too few kids in Lee County and across the state are currently able to participate because of a lack of funding. Over the last couple of years, the legislature has prioritized expansion of this program, and we will hopefully be able to do so again this year.”

The Beauregard Elementary School tour was organized by advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for the expansion of high-quality pre-k statewide.

“Nearly every Alabama’s First Class Pre-K classroom across the state has a waiting list of families that want to enroll their child, which is why it is so important that lawmakers continue to increase state investments for the program,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

ASRA’s business-led Pre-K Task Force has called on state leaders to increase funding for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program by $20 million in Fiscal Year 2018. If appropriated, the $20 million increase would increase the total amount of funding for the state’s high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten program from $64.5 million to $84.5 million.

Combined with funding from year three of Alabama's four-year federal Preschool Development Grant, a $20 million increase would add approximately 160 new classrooms and help enroll approximately 2,880 additional four-year-olds in First Class Pre-K in the next school year. 

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is administered by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education through a competitive grants process. Classrooms are located in public schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs and other preschool settings. Prospective First Class Pre-K providers are welcome to apply for new First Class Pre-K classroom grants or enhancement grants at the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov. The deadline to submit grant applications is March 17. 

For ten-years in a row, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program has been ranked the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality by the independent National Institute for Early Education Research. 

A study by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama followed the progress of First Class Pre-K graduates through the sixth grade and found that they consistently outperformed their peers in reading and math on state assessments. Additional studies nationally have found that students that attend a high-quality pre-k program are more likely to graduate from high school and find success in the workforce. They are also less likely to commit a crime or rely on social welfare programs as adults. 

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force Recommendations can be viewed in their entirety at: alabamaschoolreadiness.org/recommendations/

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