Alabama State Legislature approves $18.5 million pre-k expansion

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.

36 mins ago

Two from UAB lauded as among 100 inspiring black scientists in America

Two scientists on the faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have been named to a list of 100 inspiring black scientists in America by Cross Talk, the official blog of Cell Press, a leading publisher of cutting-edge biomedical and physical science research and reviews.

Farah Lubin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology, and Michelle Gray, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurology, made the list.

The blog’s guest author is Antentor O. Hinton Jr., Ph.D., a Ford Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Fund postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa.

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“There’s a plethora of black scientists who make significant contributions to science, but many of them are unknown to the masses,” Hinton said. “It’s imperative that young black scientists know about the myriad accomplished scientists from African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and African American backgrounds in the fields of life sciences, chemistry, engineering and physics.”

Lubin is the director of the NINDS-funded Neuroscience Roadmap Scholar Program. She is also a scientist in the Comprehensive Center for Healthy Aging, the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center, the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics, and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. Her research focuses on learning, memory and synaptic plasticity, epigenetics, non-coding RNAs gene transcription, epilepsy disorders, neurodevelopment, and developmental disabilities.

Gray is the Dixon Scholar in Neuroscience in the Center for Neurodegeneration and Experimental Therapeutics, a scientist in the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute, and co-director for the School of Medicine’s Summer in Biomedical Sciences Undergraduate Research Program. Her research focuses on the pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease with a specific interest in astrocytes, as well as cardiac abnormalities in Huntington’s disease and X-linked dystonia Parkinsonism.

The list includes 75 established investigators, including Lubin and Gray, who range from tenure track assistant professors to full professors and 25 scientists whom the author labels as rising stars.

Visit Cross Talk to see the list in its entirety.

(Courtesy of UAB)

1 hour ago

‘Don’t let Mitt happen in Alabama’: Pro-Tuberville PAC goes on attack in Senate race

A political action committee supporting former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s 2020 U.S. Senate bid released a new video ad on Tuesday that goes on the offensive against former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01).

Sessions, Tuberville and Byrne have polled significantly above other Republican primary candidates in the Senate race, including former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs). Now, the top three contenders find themselves embroiled in a negative ad blitz with two weeks to go until voters cast their ballots.

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Byrne over the weekend launched both a contrast ad that hit Tuberville and Sessions, as well as a separate negative ad claiming Tuberville supports amnesty.

This was followed by Sessions on Monday issuing a response to the Byrne ad and criticisms Tuberville has launched against Sessions while on the stump recently. Sessions on Tuesday then built on his own response by releasing an ad attacking both Byrne and Tuberville.

Tuberville’s campaign also released a new negative ad on Tuesday, echoing allegations he has made previously that Sessions and Byrne are the type of “weak-kneed career politicians” that “aren’t tough enough to stand with President Trump.” The latest Tuberville ad even implicitly compared his two leading opponents to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who recently voted to remove Trump from office on one impeachment article.

Shortly thereafter, the Romney motif was doubled down upon when GRIT PAC released a spot of its own entitled, “Don’t let Mitt Happen in Alabama.”

Over video and audio of mooing cows, a female narrator opens the ad by saying, “Jeff Sessions, Bradley Byrne: two career politicians who are out of touch with Alabama.”

The narrator then invokes Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation as attorney general and Byrne calling on Trump to step down from the Republican ticket in October 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape came out.

“In a place where Mitt happens, we need to watch our step,” the narrator warns, coupled with a sound effect and visual related to manure.

“No bullsh**,” she continues. “No weak knees.”

GRIT PAC is an independent expenditure committee supporting Tuberville’s candidacy. The PAC previously released an ad blasting Sessions when the former senator entered this race.

Tuberville’s campaign also released a negative ad against Sessions when he announced his bid to return to the Senate in late 2019.

Sessions this week has additionally launched an ad attacking Tuberville for comments he made in August about Trump not doing enough to improve healthcare for American military veterans.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Ainsworth unveils legislation to speed up legal process for death row inmates — ‘Justice should be swift not stagnant’

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth held a press conference on Tuesday where he detailed his legislation that would speed up the appeals process for death row inmates. He was joined at the briefing by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) and State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), who will sponsor the bill in the House and Senate respectively.

Currently, those convicted of a capital offense have two different attempts to appeal at the statewide level in Alabama; one to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and one to the Alabama Supreme Court.

The main change that would occur if the legislation were enacted is that a person convicted of capital murder in Alabama would only be able to make one appeal at the statewide level, and it would be heard by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

Ainsworth was initially drawn to the effort after the death of seven Alabama law enforcement officers last year.

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“Losing even one law enforcement officer to violence is unacceptable, losing seven in just one year just blows my mind,” he remarked at the event.

After a thorough review of the current system, Ainsworth said that the effort morphed into a change that would affect “all capital offenses.”

“This legislation still affords a thorough appeals process,” Ainsworth assured those in attendance.

A release from his office compared the effort to a similar process recently implemented in the State of Tennessee.

The bills would also direct the Court of Criminal Appeals to prioritize and expedite the hearings of those convicted of capital crimes, and it would start the clock sooner on an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

“The crime rate is down in every single category except one, murder,” warned Ward when he took the podium. “We have had an increase in murder in Alabama by 25% over the last three years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The state senator, who is seeking a place on the Alabama Supreme Court, argued that when it comes to law enforcement officers getting killed, Alabamians should not “continue to allow political correctness stop us from stopping this problem.”

Ward also signaled that the bill would be heard next week by the Senate Judiciary Committee which he chairs.

Rowe began her remarks talking about her 27-year career in law enforcement that ended with her as police chief for the City of Jasper.

Rowe then detailed the case of a woman slain in 1988 in Rowe’s native Walker County. The man convicted of killing that woman is currently still on death row.

“This shaves two years off of that process, it does not prevent the offender, the person who killed her, from any level of justice or appeals that they deserve, but it does speed this process along,” added Rowe.

“Her only sister lives to see if the death penalty is played out,” she said in her conclusion.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Sessions hits opponents in TV ad — Byrne ‘stabbed Trump in the back’; Tuberville ‘a tourist in Alabama’

Tuesday, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, unveiled a new TV ad critical of his opponents, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope).

The 30-second spot is critical of Byrne’s decision late in the 2016 presidential election to call for then-GOP nominee Donald Trump to step aside in the wake of unearthed audio of Trump making inappropriate remarks to then-“Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. It also raises questions of Tuberville’s residency in Alabama, claiming “he lives, votes, and pays taxes in Florida.”

The commercial appears to be an extension of a response from Sessions a day earlier to attacks from both Byrne and Tuberville.

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“It is unfortunate that Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne have resorted to desperate and false attacks on Jeff Sessions,” Sessions’ campaign spokesman John Rogers said in a statement. “Tommy Tuberville just can’t find a positive message that connects with Alabamians. He’s too busy attacking President Trump.”

Transcript as follows:

NARRATOR: Bradley Byrne and Tommy Tuberville are desperate, telling lies about Jeff Sessions.

The truth? When Trump ran for president, only one senator had the guts to support him – only ONE — Jeff Sessions.

Byrne stood with the liberals, said Trump was “not fit to be president,” and stabbed Trump in the back right before the election.

And Tuberville is a tourist in Alabama — he lives, votes, and pays taxes in Florida.

The conservative you can trust – Jeff Sessions.

JEFF SESSIONS: I’m Jeff Sessions, and I approved this ad.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

3 hours ago

AL-02 GOP candidate Terri Hasdorff invites ‘out-of-touch’ Bloomberg to visit Alabama farms over controversial remarks

In response to Michael Bloomberg’s controversial comments that resurfaced over the weekend, Republican AL-02 candidate Terri Hasdorff has invited the New York billionaire to visit farms in Alabama.

The candidate said in a release, “I am appalled at how out-of-touch Mr. Bloomberg is about how much work goes into successful farming. I’m personally inviting him to Alabama’s Second District where I would be happy to take him to one of our nearly 10,000 farms and give him a tour.”

Hasdorff added, “[M]aybe we can even get him to roll up his sleeves and put in a little bit of real work!”

Bloomberg’s remarks, which date to 2016, were widely seen as disparaging the intelligence of farmers in America because he said he could “teach anyone how to be a farmer.” The divisive comments recently made the rounds on Twitter and other social media platforms.

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Hasdorff is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) in Alabama’s Second Congressional District. Though she has not fared well in the polls to date, she has been endorsed by two generals and has connections in Washington, D.C. from her time working in government.

“Alabama’s farmers are the backbone of our state,” Hasdorff said in the release. “The fact that someone like Michael Bloomberg feels he is entitled to belittle their hard work is appalling – but this is what the far left really thinks of real America. This is what out of touch Democrats and coastal elites believe. Mr. Bloomberg was just the one caught on tape.”

 

Hasdorff will compete at the ballot box against Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman, Prattville attorney Jessica Taylor, former Alabama Attorney General Troy King and former State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) on March 3.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.