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Ivey: First Class Pre-K highest quality program in nation for 13th years straight

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced  Wednesday that the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 13th consecutive year.

“For a child to reach their fullest potential later in life, they must first build a strong foundation. I’m proud that Alabama First Class Pre-K is once again proving to be successful in providing that solid ground for our youngest learners,” Ivey said. “From our state’s historic investment in this program to Secretary Jeana Ross’s unmatched leadership, Alabama is setting the tone for early childhood education around the country. Other states know that Alabama’s students are getting off to a very strong start, and if they follow Alabama’s lead, then they, too, can do the same for their students.”

“As Alabama continues to expand access to high-quality, voluntary pre-K for 4-year-olds, the department is committed to ensuring the highest quality early learning experiences,” said Jeana Ross, secretary of Early Childhood Education. “With the support of the Alabama Legislature and the strong leadership of Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama continues to lead the nation in growth and quality. We are constantly working to develop and implement policies that support program quality in early childhood settings.”

“The Alabama First Class Pre-K program’s 13-year reign leading the nation in pre-k quality is unprecedented, and a testament to the teachers, coaches, and monitors who work with children enrolled in the program every day,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “We will continue to work with state leaders to encourage increased investments in the program so that more families have the opportunity to participate.”

Alabama leads the nation in ensuring quality while expanding program access. Nationally, the State of Preschool 2018 annual report, based on 2017-2018 academic year data, found that just one-third of 4-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs. That is virtually no change in years. Nationally, state funding is failing to keep pace with even the slow increases in enrollment and state spending per child has decreased, when adjusted for inflation. Inadequate funding undermines classroom quality, and most states fail to pay pre-K teachers comparably to K-3 teachers.

“We wish more states followed Alabama’s example of expanding pre-K enrollment with adequate funding, high quality, and demonstrated effectiveness,” said NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett. “Research finds the program yields long-term gains in achievement. If the state continues to invest, all Alabama’s young children can benefit in the near future.”

All teachers in First Class Pre-K classrooms must center their instructional strategies, classroom environment and activities according to the Alabama First Class Frame Work, first implemented beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year.

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NIEER’s 2018 State of Preschool Yearbook evaluates the quality of state-funded pre-kindergarten programs operating during the 2017-2018 school year. That year, Alabama enrolled approximately 16,884 4-year-olds. State leaders have since expanded funding for the program to extend its reach to 18,800 four-year-olds in the current school year.

NIEER listed Alabama in its report as one of nine “States on the Move.” In its profile of Alabama, NIEER highlighted the state’s commitment to increasing funding to expand enrollment and to ensuring pay parity for pre-K teachers.

ASRA points to continuing research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to demonstrate the impact state investments in pre-k are making in improving student outcomes. The PARCA/UAB team has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom — regardless of demographics, zip code or school — are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers. This study currently reviews student assessment scores through the seventh grade, and researchers plan to continue their evaluations as students progress through high school.

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The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force is encouraging lawmakers to approve a $25 million expansion of the First Class Pre-K program. Governor Ivey included this expansion in her Fiscal Year 2020 education budget. If appropriated by the state legislature, the proposed funding increase would open as many as 240 additional classrooms next year and help bring the total number of First Class classrooms statewide close to 1,300.

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. Across the state, there are 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 approximately 32 percent of 4-year-olds across the state.

In 2018, Alabama First Class Pre-K received its largest-ever single year funding increase, which expanded access to 32 percent of 4-year-olds in the state while continuing to meet all 10 quality standards benchmarks. Alabama 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.

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.

To learn more visit www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program gets more national attention

The article analyzed a recent study that found that students who attended the program were “statistically significantly more likely” to be proficient in both math and reading than those who did not.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s First Class Pre-K program gives children advantages in math and reading that last into middle school, far longer than the gains studied in other high-quality pre-K programs, according to an article published in the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy.

The article analyzed a recent study that found that students who attended the program were “statistically significantly more likely” to be proficient in both math and reading than those who did not.

While programs like Head Start and Tennessee’s pre-K program have been shown to lead to significant educational improvements when children enter kindergarten, those benefits appear to experience a “fadeout” within a year. 

The new research followed students through the 7th grade. Further research should examine the persistence of benefits through high school, according to the article, which was published by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, ThinkData and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

The research “is reassuring and supports accountability for continued investments and expansion,” the article concluded.

The journal that featured the article is a publication of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

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Selma residents will discuss renaming Edmund Pettus Bridge at Aug. 7 virtual event

Micah Danney

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The historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

A group of Selma residents, in response to the latest push to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge, has organized and will host a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the proposal.

The forum can be viewed live on the Facebook page of the Selma Matters Campaign on Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. The group encouraged members of the public to attend.

The event will include “leaders from across the country who bring a wealth of knowledge to the various aspects of considering the name change” and will feature Selma locals, including “foot soldiers” of the Civil Rights movement. It will be moderated by LaTosha Brown, a Selma native and co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Bernard LaFayette, Civil Rights activist and co-founder of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation.

There have been several initiatives launched over the years to rename the bridge, which bears the name of a Confederate general and reputed grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The current push is by The John Lewis Bridge Project, a nonprofit formed to rename the bridge in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis, who led the historic march for voting rights across the bridge and into the batons and fists of white State Troopers and deputized citizens in 1965.

The nonprofit was formed in June, when Lewis was ailing with cancer. Lewis had responded to a previous attempt to rename the bridge in his honor by politely declining it in an editorial. His office did not comment when the current initiative was announced.

Residents of Selma, some of whom were on the bridge in 1965, or had relatives who were, have resisted efforts to rename it. Some argue that its name has become synonymous with the struggle for political and human rights that made it famous. It’s a landmark in the global landscape of freedom struggle sites, and is under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The latest petition had a goal of 500,000 signatures. It has surpassed that since Lewis died, and the goal was increased to 1 million signatures.

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“In recognizing this rising effort, the Selma Matters Campaign has dedicated its focus on ensuring the citizens of Selma are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and not be left out of the decision-making process that directly impacts Selma,” the group said in a statement.

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Exposure notification app for college students launches pilot phase

Micah Danney

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Screen captures of the GuideSafe application. (UAB)

College students across Alabama and anyone with a .edu email address are being invited to participate in an anonymous Exposure Notification System app for iPhone and Android users. The app launched in a closed pilot phase on Monday that will allow up to 10,000 downloads for each phone type.

The app is part of the GuideSafe platform, a suite of tools designed to help people reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. It features a tool called HealthCheck, which allows users to report COVID-19 symptoms, and another called Event Passport, which uses an algorithm to assess whether a person is safe to attend a gathering of 10 or more people or not based on the responses they log in HealthCheck. 

The GuideSafe platform encompasses the Stay Safe Together and Testing for Alabama initiatives. Participation is voluntary and designed to protect users’ privacy while anonymously alerting each user to potential exposure to someone who has tested positive in the last 14 days. The exposure notification system assigns random numbers to each user to keep them anonymous to each other and to the system.

The app will be made available for mass public download later this month after the pilot phase ends and the app’s performance is assessed.

GuideSafe is the largest-scale testing initiative for higher education in the nation. It uses exposure notification technology developed jointly by Google and Apple.

Alabama is one of the first states to launch the technology, which is part of the state’s program for safe entry to campuses of higher education. Gov. Kay Ivey allocated more than $30 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the plan.

The pilot app was built by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham-based MotionMobs, in partnership with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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“We have worked extremely hard to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care and education to make a positive difference in this pandemic,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall.”

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Governor announces $100 million internet voucher program for students

The governor has allocated for the program $100 million of the state’s $435 million in federal CARES act funds to help the state safeguard schools amid the growing spread of COVID-19. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced a program to increase internet access for K-12 students for distance learning as the start of the new school year approaches. 

The project, called Alabama Broadband Connectivity (ABC) for Students, will provide vouchers for families of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches “or other income criteria,” according to a press release from Ivey’s office. The vouchers will pay for equipment and services for high-speed internet from the fall through Dec. 31. 

Ivey has allocated for the program $100 million of the state’s $435 million in federal CARES act funds to help the state safeguard schools amid the growing spread of COVID-19. 

The funds will be used to expand internet access by providing “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels,” according to Ivey’s office. 

“Despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and at least into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction,” Ivey said in a statement. “This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic. While I respect those districts that have elected to use remote learning, I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”

Families with children who receive free or reduced school lunch are to receive a mailed letter in August, and a website to assist Alabamians with questions as the program nears its launch can be found here.

“Once again, we are appreciative of the leadership and resources provided by Governor Ivey during this unprecedented time in our country’s history. More than ever before, the immediate need for broadband infrastructure, devices, and connectivity are an integral part of providing Alabama students with a quality education,” said Eric Mackey, Alabama superintendent of education, in a statement. “A huge part of evening the playing field to provide greater equity in educational services will come from closing the digital divide between varying Alabama communities. We still have a lot of work to do, but because of the resources provided by Gov. Ivey, we can head into what we know will be a challenging school year with greater optimism.”  

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The funds are to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which has partnered with Maryland-based CTC Technology & Energy for the project. 

“We have learned in the past several months that internet connectivity is a necessity for everything from education to healthcare and working remotely. I am pleased that Alabama is going to enter into this private-public partnership to make internet access available to those low-income households who cannot currently afford it. Economic status should not be a determining factor in receiving quality education, and it should not bar anyone from the ability to access vital online services,” said Sen. Del Marsh, president pro tem of the State Senate, in a statement. “Although this is only a temporary solution, I am confident that it will be a bridge to a time when fiber is put in the ground and access to the internet and devices will become standard across Alabama.”

According to Ivey’s office, the plan was drafted with the input from the Broadband Working Group, a group Ivey announced the creation of on June 25, which is composed of legislators and industry experts who are to provide to guidance on the state’s spending of $1.9 billion in CARES Act funds. 

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“I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of Governor Ivey’s working group to utilize federal funds in the CARES Act to provide broadband access to all Alabama students regardless of income. I think Governor Ivey has a good plan,” said Rep. Randall Shedd, a member of the working group and a leader of the Rural Caucus. 

Mackey said last week that approximately half of the state’s K-12 students will begin school by learning virtually for a period of time. A lack of internet connectivity in many homes is a major concern for school administrators who face the challenge of providing education to students when new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase in Alabama. 

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