An Alabama nonprofit that advocates for high-quality pre-K hopes that state lawmakers will support Governor Kay Ivey’s request to invest $24.4 million into expanding pre-K classrooms.
Bob Powers, co-chair of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s pre-K task force, in a live-streamed briefing with reporters and the public Wednesday said the state’s current pre-K funding is $126 million and that since the nonprofit started in 2012, pre-K classes have grown by 667 percent, with almost 40 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds currently enrolled.
“But our work is not finished. New funding is desperately needed,” Powers said. “Many communities across the state turn families away because there aren’t enough classrooms. The interested families are not able to have their 4-year-olds enroll.”
Powers noted research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham that found that children who participated in Alabama’s first-class pre-K program outperform their peers in reading and math in every grade.
“This is true regardless of a student’s income level, ethnicity or zip code,” Powers said. “What this research shows is that our pre-K program is working. It is closing academic achievement gaps and better preparing students for success in school, so it’s a shame that less than half of the state’s 4-year-olds even have a chance to get in.”
Powers said if state lawmakers approve Ivey’s funding request of an additional $24.4 million, the state could add at least 207 classrooms, which would serve an additional 3,726 students.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance isn’t just recommending more funding, however, and among a list of eight recommendations also ask that the state lawmakers prioritize expanding access to students at-risk of school failure, support investments in child care quality and that the Department of Early Childhood Education regularly observe the quality of teaching and that student outcomes be tracked over time through a high-quality, longitudinal program evaluation.
Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, said during the briefing that the task force’s recommendations are part of a long-term plan to ensure that all 4-year-olds in Alabama have access to pre-K.
“It’ll take more than $200 million to make that happen, and the governor’s budget proposal keeps us on track to get there within the next few years,” Muhlendorf said.