Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) ranks Alabama First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 15th consecutive year.
“Ensuring our youngest learners have a strong start to their educational journeys is important now, more than ever. Alabama continues to set the nationwide bar for our success with the Alabama First Class Pre-K program,” Governor Ivey said.
Each year since 2017, Alabama First Class Pre-K has received increased support from the Education Trust Fund as recommended by the governor and approved by the Alabama Legislature. Access to pre-k grew to more than 34 percent of four-year-olds in the state while continuing to meet all 10 NIEER quality standards benchmarks in the 2019-2020 school year. The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, which administers the First Class Pre-K program through the Office of School Readiness, 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. Access for the 2020-2021 school year now stands as 37 percent.
“Alabama has committed to investing in our youngest learners through the First Class Pre-K program, and those investments continue to be recognized on the national level,” Dr. Barbara Cooper, Secretary of Early Childhood Education said. “This was only made possible by continuous leadership from Governor Ivey and bipartisan legislative commitment to invest in quality early childhood education.”
Alabama leads the nation in ensuring quality while expanding program access. Alabama’s strong quality policies result in high quality learning experiences and teaching, higher than research finds as a national average. The State of Preschool Yearbook summarizes progress nationally and state by state profiling interstate variation in state pre-K enrollment, spending, and 10 policies that support quality. Nationally, the State of Preschool 2020 annual report, based on 2019-2020 academic year data, finds just one third of four-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs—a decline of 4,296 over the previous year. Inadequate funding undermines classroom quality, and most states fail to pay pre-k teachers comparably to K-3rd grade teachers.
“Alabama continues to be a national leader in high quality pre-K, even expanding access during the pandemic,” NIEER Founder and Senior Co-Director Steven Barnett, Ph.D said. “The state’s strong investment in teachers and continuous improvement will produce a lifetime of benefits for the state’s young children and its taxpayers.”