Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education on Tuesday announced that the renowned Alabama First Class Pre-K program will add 135 new classrooms in 41 counties this fall.
This is only the first round of new classroom funding that will be released by the Department of Early Childhood Education for the coming school year. Additional classrooms will be funded based on further evaluation of high-needs areas and announced at a later date.
The new classrooms will expand access to the voluntary pre-kindergarten program to 24,714 children in the 2021-2022 school year, with more than 1,373 classrooms statewide, moving closer to Alabama’s goal of serving 70% of eligible four-year-old children.
The program has been named the nation’s best for 15 consecutive years.
“Alabama’s First Class Pre-K has been recognized as a national model for delivering high-quality early childhood education and gives our youngest citizens a strong start to their educational journey,” Ivey said in a statement. “I am glad to see that even more students will have access to Pre-K next year and look forward to the day that all Alabama families who want Pre-K for their children have access.”
The announcement comes after the Alabama Legislature approved the governor’s recommended Education Trust Fund budget increase for the Department of Early Childhood Education, which includes $151 million for the Office of School Readiness that administers First Class Pre-K. In addition to funding new classrooms throughout the state, the Department of Early Childhood Education will continue to ensure pay parity for all First Class Pre-K teachers with the same 2% pay raise as K-12 public school teachers will receive in the upcoming school year.
“We are excited to add 135 new classrooms to our First Class Pre-K program in the coming year,” commented Dr. Barbara Cooper, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. “In conversations with leaders across the state, it is apparent that the benefits of high-quality pre-k are well understood. Thank you to the organizations within the early learning mixed delivery system who have stepped up to partner with us to provide this valuable opportunity in all 67 counties.”
Students who participate in First Class Pre-K are more likely to be proficient in math and reading, with no evidence of fade out of the benefits of high-quality pre-k over time. These long-term results hold true even after controlled for student demographics and other variables such as poverty. Alabama has continued to prioritize and strengthen early learning during the pandemic.
“Alabama has committed to investing in our youngest learners through the pre-k program, and those investments continue to be recognized at the national level,” Cooper advised. “This was only made possible by continuous leadership from Governor Ivey and bipartisan legislative commitment to invest in quality early childhood education.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn