Alabama House passes largest ever education budget, includes record pre-k funding
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Education Trust Fund budget bill as amended, approving a $26.8 million increase to expand Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program and help ensure its teachers receive a pay raise at the same level as other public school educators.
The House-approved version of SB 199, like the Senate-passed version, brings the overall amount of funding for First Class Pre-K to $122.8 million total for Fiscal Year 2020.
The increase will enable the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to create around 200 additional classrooms and raise the total percentage of four-year-olds enrolled in the program from 32% to nearly 40%.
Although the House and Senate agreed on the pre-k funding aspect of SB 199, the two bodies still need to work out differences in other parts of the education budget through a conference committee before the bill can go to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.
While Alabama’s k-12 education system is a major work-in-progress, Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-k Program has been ranked as the nation’s best for 13 consecutive years. The Education Trust Fund budget versions passed by both chambers expand this revolutionary program to even more Alabamians, ensuring fewer students are irreversibly falling behind early in their education.
The co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s (ASRA) business-led Pre-K Task Force on Tuesday applauded the legislature’s strong support of the First Class Pre-K program.
“Today’s vote shows that Governor Ivey, the Alabama State Senate and the Alabama House of Representatives are all in agreement that our state should provide more families with the opportunity to voluntarily enroll their child in the nation’s highest quality pre-kindergarten program,” Bob Powers and Mike Luce said in a statement. “We would like to thank Chairman Poole and his committee for prioritizing additional pre-k funding in this year’s budget.”
The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities. The task force is in year seven of its 10-year campaign to gradually add funding for the state’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program until all families have access while maintaining the program’s unparalleled benchmarks for quality and accountability.
In 2012, the ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed gradually expanding pre-k access to all families.
Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $96 million in Fiscal Year 2019. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. Today, at the end of the 2018-19 school year, 32% of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.
SB 199 represents a total $7.1 billion Education Trust Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins October 1 of this year. This would the largest education budget in state history.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn