The Alabama Legislature last week inched a step closer to providing high-quality pre-k to every family in the state that wants to voluntarily enroll their four-year-old.
The legislature gave final approval to the HB 175, the FY 2019 Education Trust Fund Budget. The bill appropriates a total of $96 million to the state’s pre-kindergarten program; $18.5 million more than the program’s current funding level.
Once signed into law, the $18.5 million expansion, along with funding from the final year of the state’s four-year federal Preschool Development Grant, would enable the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, which manages the First Class Pre-K program, to add at least 100 new classrooms. This would allow at least 1,800 additional four-year-olds to enroll in the state’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program in the 2018-2019 school year.
Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance and its Pre-K Task Force, a coalition of more than 40 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities, estimate that it would take an annual appropriation of $144 million to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to every family in the state that wanted to enroll their child. Today’s legislative action means that Alabama is on track to forseeably reach this goal within the next few years.
“Research released last month reaffirms that students who participate in Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program outperform their peers in reading and math; however, too few four-year-olds are able to participate because of a lack of funding for the program,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, the co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force. “The state legislature today voted to give more families an opportunity to enroll their children in First Class Pre-K. We applaud their commitment to expanding Alabama’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program and we encourage state leaders to continue to make pre-k investments a priority until the program is fully funded.”
Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. For 11 years in a row, it has been ranked the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
There are currently 941 Alabama First Class Pre-K classrooms located in various public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, and other community-based preschool settings. However, that is only enough classrooms to enroll 28 percent of four-year-olds across the state.
A recent study of Alabama third graders found that students who voluntarily participated in the state’s high-quality First Class Pre-K program are more likely to be proficient in reading and math than their peers. The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama in conjunction with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Among the findings, researchers observed that First Class Pre-K:
— Narrowed the gap reading proficiency by 28 percent for all children in poverty; 32 percent for White children in poverty; 31 percent for Hispanic children in poverty; and, 26 percent for Black children in poverty.
— Narrowed the gap in math proficiency by 57 percent for all children in poverty; 71 percent for Hispanic children in poverty; and, 37 percent for Black children in poverty.
— Increased reading proficiency for children in poverty by 12 percent overall; 25 percent for Hispanic children in poverty; 23 percent for Black children in poverty; and, 3 percent for White children in poverty.
— Increased math proficiency for children in poverty by 13 percent overall; 17 percent for Hispanic children in poverty; 16 percent for Black children in poverty; and, 10 percent for White children in poverty.
A complete breakdown of the research on Alabama First Class Pre-K outcomes can be found here.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance advocates for the expansion of high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten. ASRA works to ensure that pre-k is a continuing priority for Alabama’s children, parents, community leaders, legislators and governing officials. ASRA is a collaborative effort of A+ Education Partnership, Alabama Giving, Alabama Partnership and VOICES for Alabama’s Children. Visit here to learn more.