2 years ago

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program ranked nation’s best once again

Alabama is ranked number one in the nation in something besides football, and under Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, this type of success appears to be becoming a strong trend.

A recently released report named Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as America’s best once again, lauding the state-funded program as the “only pre-kindergarten program in the country that comes close to having all the elements of a strong pre-k program.”

In its “Implementing 15 Essential Elements for High-Quality Pre-K: An Updated Scan of State Polices” report, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) found that Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program fully met 14 of the report’s 15 “essential elements” characterizing high-quality programs, and it partially met the 15th element, too.

Included among these benchmarks were measurements assessing a program’s leadership, early learning policies and program practices. Alabama’s performance in meeting the essential elements exceeded the national average by more than 233 percent.

Advocates from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA) lauded NIEER’s latest study, pointing out that the Yellowhammer State’s adherence to high quality is one reason why ongoing research by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) shows that students who attend First Class Pre-K perform better than their peers on state reading and math assessments.

“The National Institute for Early Education Research is the foremost leader on pre-kindergarten quality and for this organization to continually find Alabama’s program among the nation’s best is a testament to state leaders,” Allison Muhlendorf, ASRA executive director, said in a press release.

She continued, “The Essential Elements report confirms that the long-term effectiveness of a pre-k program is dependent on its commitment to quality, and we are proud that Alabama continues to differentiate itself as the nation’s standard-bearer in this effort.”

Alabama also received strong marks from NIEER in May when the organization released its annual State of Preschool Yearbook. That report ranked Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as the nation’s highest quality program for the 12th consecutive year.

The Office of School Readiness, housed within the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, administers First Class Pre-K.

“First Class Pre-K is a nationally-recognized program of excellence,” Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education, said in a statement after the release of the NIEER Yearbook earlier this year. “The program framework encompasses all aspects of the highest quality early learning experiences that ensure school readiness for children, and this emphasis on quality impacts student outcomes far beyond kindergarten.”

While the NIEER Yearbook examines state policies that support state-funded pre-k, the Essential Elements report reviews the environment needed for states to execute a high-quality pre-kindergarten program, as well as the degree to which states implement their policies.

There are currently 1,045 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 32 percent of four-year-olds across the state, and ASRA and state leaders want to continue increasing access to the tremendously successful program.

This spring, the Alabama Legislature approved Ivey’s request for the program’s largest-ever single-year budget increase – an extra $18.5 million for First Class Pre-K in the 2019 program budget, bringing its annual total to $96 million.

“Having a strong start to one’s educational journey is critical to having a strong finish when it comes time to enter the workforce,” Ivey said in a release at the time. “Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is, without question, the best in the nation. I am proud that we can increase the reach of this important educational opportunity, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to further expand the availability of voluntary Pre-K.”

In 2012, ASRA’s business-led Pre-K Task Force launched a ten-year campaign to advocate for full funding for the First Class Pre-K program through incremental state funding increases. ASRA has estimated that the state would need to appropriate a total level of funding of $144 million to give every Alabama family the opportunity to enroll their four-year-old in a First Class Pre-K program voluntarily.

Ivey hosted a packed Early Childhood Education Leadership Forum last week, where the governor stressed that she wanted to see continued progress moving forward in the early stage of education, including Pre-K.

The Ivey administration has also overseen Alabama being ranked as the nation’s best for its engaged workforce, business climate and manufacturing, along with other top economic development rankings.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

47 mins ago

Ainsworth opts against 2022 U.S. Senate run

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) on Friday announced he will not be a candidate in Alabama’s 2022 U.S. Senate contest.

The seat is being vacated by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) decision not to seek a seventh term.

Ainsworth, who is serving his first term as lieutenant governor, is the prohibitive favorite to be the Yellowhammer State’s next governor.

“After discussions with my wife, Kendall, and prayerful consideration, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” he wrote in a social media post. “Because our twin boys and daughter are young and need a father who is present and deeply involved in their lives, I feel strongly that God’s plan currently calls for me to continue leading on the state, not federal, level of government.”

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“The encouragement to run that I have received from every corner of the state is humbling, and the support of my fellow Alabamians is deeply appreciated,” Ainsworth continued. “Sen. Shelby has served Alabama well, and his shadow will loom large over all those who run to fill his seat. As lieutenant governor, I will continue seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing Alabama and will keep working each day to bring more jobs, hope, and opportunities to the citizens of our state.”

Lynda Blanchard is currently the only announced candidate in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.

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

1 hour ago

East Alabama’s Russel Medical receives ‘transformational’ $25M gift

Russell Medical, a hospital located in Alexander City that serves a large portion of East Alabama, announced a multi-facility expansion on Thursday that is being made possible by a $25 million gift.

Making the donation to the nonprofit hospital are Ben and Luanne Russell. Ben Russell is the CEO of Russell Lands, the company that has developed much of the area around Lake Martin. His grandfather, affectionately known as “Mr. Ben,” built the famous Russell clothing company.

The gift from the Russells is the largest in the history of Russell Medical. It will provide for the construction of a new large-scale project focused on providing care for the elderly.

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To be built on the hospital’s campus in Alexander City, the Russell Legacy Project will include 26 units of independent living single-family cottages, an assisted living facility with 32 units.

The Russells’ donation will also provide for the construction of the Benjamin Russell Center for Advanced Care, a new project for the hospital that will “provide comprehensive geriatric health care and specialty health care services,” per a release.

“Ben and Luanne’s extraordinary act of generosity reflects a caring family who are great supporters of Alexander City, the Lake Martin area, and the medical community in Alabama. The Russell Legacy Project allows us to grow services centered on the largest sector who are in need of healthcare services, those citizens 65 years and older,” stated Jim Peace, president and CEO of Russell Medical.

In addition to the new facility, the gift from the Russels will create the Benjamin Russell Endowed Chair in Geriatrics, pending approval by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Russel Medical is a member of the UAB Health System.

“Each day for the next 20+ years, approximately 10,000 adults will turn 65, and with this trend, the demand for Geriatricians is expected to skyrocket,” remarked Dr. Cynthia Brown, director for the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care at UAB.

The advanced care facility will be constructed in front of the hospital’s cancer center and will look out onto Highway 280. In addition to its primary focus on elder care, the center will house Women’s Health and other specialty clinics.

“As lifelong residents of Alexander City, Luanne and I have supported the Lake Martin area and this hospital and are pleased to be able to make this gift, honoring my grandfather, Benjamin Russell. Mr. Ben did much for this state and its people. This gift is one way Luanne and I can recognize his contributions,” said Ben Rusell.

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

5 hours ago

7 Things: Alabama State Health Officer says to take any coronavirus vaccine, Alabama Democrats think all protesters are rioters, U.S. Capitol still faces threats and more …

7. Joe Reed: Keep straight-ticket voting in Alabama

  • Democratic Party leader Joe Reed has come out against a piece of legislation that would get rid of straight-ticket voting throughout Alabama. Reed asked that the 24 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who have decided to co-sponsor the bill remove their support.
  • Reed asked the question, “What is wrong with a person voting the straight-ticket?” He added that he doesn’t know of any “harm” straight-ticket voting does to the “Democratic process,” and he focused on how removing straight-ticket voting would ultimately hurt the Democratic Party as it would remove support from candidates with less name ID.

6. $15 minimum wage is out of the coronavirus stimulus bill

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  • Congressional Democrats’ attempts to force a minimum wage hike into a completely unrelated coronavirus stimulus bill were stymied by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian who declared the provision violated budgetary rules.
  • Democrats will now have to gain Republican support for the measure or do it by killing the filibuster, a move they probably can’t pull off. Democrats like U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) are not happy and expressed as such, saying, “I’m sorry — an unelected parliamentarian does not get to deprive 32 million Americans the raise they deserve. This is an advisory, not a ruling. VP Harris needs to disregard and rule a $15 minimum wage in order. We were elected to deliver for the people. It’s time we do our job.”

5. Equality Act passes in Congress, Alabama takes another path

  • With only three Republicans voting for the Equality Act, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in a 224-206 vote. The bill provides protections for those in the LGBTQ+ community in a wide range, including allowing transgender people to participate in their chosen gender’s league for sports.
  • In Alabama, a bill was approved by a House committee that would forbid doctors from using puberty-blocking medications, hormones and surgeries on transgender minors.

4. Legislature taking their time with medical marijuana

  • Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) has said that in the House of Representatives, they’re going take their time with the medical marijuana bill by sending it through the Judiciary and Health Committees.
  • McCutcheon said, “We’re going to go through the bill page-by-page.” The medical marijuana bill has already passed the State Senate and has to be passed by the House before Governor Kay Ivey can sign it into law.

3. Threats against the U.S. Capitol ahead of State of the Union

  • It hasn’t been scheduled or announced when President Joe Biden will give his first State of the Union address, but acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman has said that there are credible threats to “blow up” the U.S. Capitol during the address. Pittman said this is why it’s necessary for security measures, like National Guardsman and the barbed wire fence, to stay in place.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) wants a fair and balanced investigation into the riots at the U.S. Capitol. He will even testify under oath during it, and he may get it after all.

2. Bill targeting rioters is somehow aimed at peaceful protesters

  • The legislation brought by State Representative Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) that would make rioting or inciting a riot a felony has received some backlash from State Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who claims that the bill will actually target peaceful protesters.
  • Smitherman said that this bill “seeks to take us back 60 years to where we were at that particular time,” referencing the 1960s and 1970s when protestors were arrested. He went on to assert that this bill would lead to those who are protesting being arrested, adding, “We can’t allow to go back 60 years in time to try to oppress people from being able to…speak out.”

1. State Health Officer: Take the coronavirus vaccine made available to you

  • State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is advising that people in Alabama should simply take whichever coronavirus vaccine that’s available to them. This came into question as it’s anticipated that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration soon.
  • Dr. Harris stated, “This is a vaccine that prevents deaths and prevents even serious illness and hospitalization at the exact same rate as the other vaccines,” which doesn’t seem to be true.

6 hours ago

PSC President Cavanaugh: Measures implemented to protect Alabama against Texas-like widespread electric utility failures

Last week, the nation watched as Texas suffered electricity outages during an unprecedented winter storm that wreaked havoc on the Lone Star State.

Could that happen here in Alabama? Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh said although no utility is completely invulnerable, measures have been taken to protect customers.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Cavanaugh elaborated on why Texas and Alabama are uniquely different and why Alabama may have fared differently under similar circumstances.

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“[I] did not know a whole lot about Texas until this started happening,” she said. “Since then, I have studied and tried to make sure we have covered all our bases here in Alabama, and that does not happen. Now, let me give this disclaimer — there is never 100% on any utility. Obviously, there are things utilities must do to be prepared. But there are things that can go wrong no matter how prepared you are. I always give that disclaimer.”

“However, Texas and Alabama are completely different in their setup,” Cavanaugh continued. “Alabama Power is the largest power utility in Alabama, and it is a regulated utility. The other utilities that produce electricity in Alabama are TVA, which is a federal-run utility — it is a quasi-government-run utility in North Alabama. We also have some cities that have their own system. They’re called municipals. And then, there are co-ops in some of your rural areas. In fact, I believe Baldwin County has some co-ops. And so, those are run by their members.”

“We regulate Alabama Power Company, which many of your listeners in Mobile have,” she added. “They are regulated. In Texas, 90% of their power is not regulated. In other words, they are deregulated, is what the industry calls it. And after reading this — I think the easiest way to put this is when you’re regulated, we look at everything as how do we protect the people, or how do we protect the customers. In a non-regulated arena, it is how do you protect the profits of these companies.”

According to Cavanaugh, the difference in governing utilities makes such a scenario that Texas faced less likely in Alabama.

“There’s just a completely different philosophy in the two,” she said. “And one of the things in a regulated environment like Alabama Power Company, we always want to weigh things on how it will affect customers. We do that through — is it reliable for consumers? And is it affordable? They have to present to us, I say, on a monthly basis, but it is actually a continual basis. They are audited. And we ensure they do what it takes to be able to handle the load, no matter what the load problems may be.”

Cavanaugh also explained how that given Texas is on its own grid, which covers 90% of that state, prevents it from bringing power in from other states, which is a protection that exists with Alabama’s electric utilities.

She added that there is also less of an incentive to undergo the expensive effort of winterizing in a deregulated environment like Texas.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

7 hours ago

State Rep. Treadaway on anti-rioting bill: ‘This is not a race thing — This is a law and order thing’

State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) on Thursday morning interviewed with Talk 99.5’s “Matt & Val Show” regarding his HB 445, which would create new crimes and penalties for individuals who incite or participate in riots.

His interview came the day after State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) took to the Senate floor to lambast the legislation — and those who support it — as wanting to “snatch” up Black Lives Matter protesters and “take us back 60 years.” Smitherman said the legislation was part of a general oppressive movement he compared to the killing of George Floyd.

Treadaway recently retired as Birmingham Police Department assistant chief following a 31-year career on the force; he was on the ground when protesting turned into violent and destructive rioting, looting and arson for one night in the Magic City this past summer. Speaking to co-hosts Matt Murphy and Valerie Vining, Treadaway reiterated his firsthand — and the city’s — experience was the genesis of his bill.

“We all saw what played out across the country last year,” Treadaway said. “And then it came to Birmingham — was actually brought to Birmingham.”

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“So, I’m just going to go over some facts for you real quick just to put a backdrop to this thing,” he outlined. “We know for a fact the night before the protest in Birmingham, folks came in and they planted incendiary devices, gasoline, bricks, and somebody’s funding that. So, there’s a very organized effort going on in this country to keep chaos up. And when they did that, the protesters came in, and — for the most part — our local protesters were peaceful.”

The career law enforcement officer noted that this protest was different than the many peaceful ones he had personally experienced beforehand in the city.

“In this instance, the outsiders that came in to the city of Birmingham were hell-bent on destruction. And that’s a fact,” Treadaway remarked. “Approximately 70 people were arrested. But out of that 70 people, probably 1/3 of them were local.”

He added that most of the locals were arrested for “minor offenses like failure to disperse and things like that.”

“But there was an element that was embedded into those protesters that came into the city of Birmingham and started rioting, started inciting a riot,” he continued. “And when that happened, they went to the shrubbery, the plants, that were around these buildings downtown where they had planted these devices. And they used them to try to destroy the city. Sledgehammers, the incendiary devices, gasoline.”

Treadaway stressed that this factual account was the motivation and basis for the bill.

“And the whole race issue that’s been coming up, I want to talk about that for just a second. Because many of the folks that were arrested from out of town were college-age white kids, OK. And the ones that were bashing windows in. So, this is not a race thing,” he stressed. “This is a law and order thing.”

“I knew when I brought the legislation it would be controversial — with some,” he acknowledged. “But I firmly believe that the masses of Americans — black, brown and white — that they don’t want this (rioting) in their city. They don’t want folks hijacking a cause. And they don’t want them hell-bent on trying to destroy and burn down their city.”

The fourth-term legislator from Jefferson County further highlighted that “law enforcement needs more protection.” He shared that an individual from outside the state was behind the jail the night of the rioting “with a sack full of cash.”

“And why is that? We have a $300 cash bond,” Treadaway explained, outlining that the individual was helping others bond out straight back onto the street to rejoin the rioting. His bill would prevent that by instituting a mandatory hold period for those arrested for rioting or inciting a riot.

“You can’t have a situation where we’re trying to put this type of riot down and people are bonding out and coming back in and joining the fray,” he underlined. “It just doesn’t work.”

Murphy then asked if the Birmingham rioting could have easily resulted in much worse property damage and physical bodily harm.

“There’s no doubt about it, we dodged a bullet,” Treadaway responded. “And then there was those who tried to hang around and reignite the situation.”

He praised the police department’s community policing emphasis for warding off a worse outcome.

“We dodged a bullet that day. They tried to reignite that situation,” he reiterated. “And I think we did a really good job in making sure that that did not happen.”

Treadaway shared that Mobile similarly had a problem with out-of-state people traveling to the city “trying to incite riots there.”

“These folks are sharing information with one another, and when there is a legitimate protest — a peaceful protest — being organized, there’s an element now that’s out there — a criminal element — that’s hell-bent on embedding themselves in those type of causes,” he advised. “That’s just a fact. So, the legislation is an attempt to address some of that.”

He subsequently went on to define what participating in or inciting a riot entails pursuant to HB 445, differentiating those activities from peaceful protesting.

“The First Amendment is something I believe in greatly,” Treadaway reaffirmed.

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