Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has ranked Alabama First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 15th consecutive year.
“Ensuring our youngest learners have a strong start to their educational journeys is important now, more than ever. Alabama continues to set the nationwide bar for our success with the Alabama First Class Pre-K program,” Ivey said in a statement.
A major study concluded in 2019 that students who participate in the State of Alabama’s voluntary pre-k program are more likely to be proficient in math and reading, with no evidence of fade out of the benefits over time. These long-term results hold true even after the study controlled for student demographics and other variables such as poverty.
Each year since 2017, Alabama First Class Pre-K has received increased year-over-year support from the Education Trust Fund as recommended by the governor and approved by the Alabama Legislature. Access to pre-k grew to more than 34% of four-year-olds in the state while continuing to meet all 10 NIEER quality standards benchmarks in the 2019-2020 school year. The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, which administers the First Class Pre-K program through the Office of School Readiness, requires all First Class Pre-K lead teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, at a minimum, and provides salary parity with K-3 teachers. Access for the 2020-2021 school year now stands at 37%.
In Ivey’s proposed fiscal year 2022 education budget that is currently working its way through the legislature, the governor put forward a $24.4 million expansion of the First Class Pre-K program. If approved by the legislature in the coming weeks, the proposed funding increase would add at least 207 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 3,726 additional four-year-olds.
With projected subsequent incremental funding increases, Alabama is currently on pace to offer the opportunity of First Class Pre-k to all families by the 2025-2026 school year.
“Alabama has committed to investing in our youngest learners through the First Class Pre-K program, and those investments continue to be recognized on the national level,” commented Dr. Barbara Cooper, Alabama secretary of Early Childhood Education. “This was only made possible by continuous leadership from Governor Ivey and bipartisan legislative commitment to invest in quality early childhood education.”
Monday’s news again affirms that Alabama continues to lead the nation in ensuring quality while expanding program access. The Yellowhammer State’s strong quality policies result in top-notch learning experiences and teaching, higher than research finds as a national average.
“Alabama continues to be a national leader in high quality pre-K, even expanding access during the pandemic,” said NIEER founder and senior co-director Steven Barnett, Ph.D. “The state’s strong investment in teachers and continuous improvement will produce a lifetime of benefits for the state’s young children and its taxpayers.”
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn