Private child care, faith-based programs see substantial gains
Contributed by Longleaf Stategies
An additional 2,430 4-year-olds will now be able to enroll in the First Class Pre-K program in the upcoming school year due to the addition of 135 classrooms announced today by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. Additional pre-kindergarten 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 last month.
Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance welcomed today’s 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 lead outreach to existing child care and preschool providers on the opportunity 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 today, 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 existing early learning programs is a top priority for ASRA.
With today’s announcement, there is now 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% of the state’s 4-year-olds. ASRA estimates that percentage is expected to increase with a second round of classroom announcements before the next school year. Alabama needs to reach at least 70% of 4-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, among other positive outcomes.
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 www.children.alabama.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2021/05/New-Pre-K-Classrooms-2021-2022.