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Child care providers, parents call for more Pre-K, child care funds

Advocates on Monday called on the Legislature to approve a combined $42 million increase in state investments.

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Alabama business leaders, parents, child care providers and early childhood advocates on Monday called on the State Legislature to approve a combined $42 million increase in state investments in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program and the Alabama Quality STARS Rating and Improvement System for Child Care.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, early childhood, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities. The Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $173.7 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2022-23 school year, nearly 45 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.

“As First Class Pre-K has expanded from serving six to 45 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds, it has continued to be recognized for effectively preparing our children for success. Alabama must continue to increase investments in First Class Pre-K so all Alabama four-year-olds have voluntary access,” said Birmingham and Eufaula based business leader Bob Powers, Chair of the ASRA Pre-K Task Force. “This investment must include funding to improve the quality and infrastructure of Alabama’s private child care system. Alabama’s private child care system is needed to provide most of the additional classrooms and teachers remaining in the expansion of First Class Pre-K. Early learning investments will produce immediate and long-term benefits for our children, business, and Alabama.”

If approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Ivey, the additional funding would help the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education add an additional 100 high-quality First Class Pre-K classrooms next fall and grow the percentage of Alabama four-year-olds served from 45 to 47 percent. Alabama Quality STARS directly supports pre-k expansion by helping early care and education programs make the improvements needed to become First Class Pre-K providers.

“First Class Pre-K and Quality STARS have enhanced the quality of our program all levels,” said Susie Sturdivant, a child care provider with 35 years of experience. Sturdivant owns Little House for Little People in Bessemer, and says state support has been a game changer. “The funding and resources from the state are critical because we cannot provide this level of quality on parent fees alone. Staff from First Class Pre-K and Quality Stars help our staff make meet our children’s needs, especially with lesson planning. I know that the children we serve have the strong foundation they need to be successful in school, graduate from high school and become productive citizens.”

For 16 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has followed students through the eighth grade and found that those who participated in the First Class Pre-K program – regardless of demographics, zip code, or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.

Governor Kay Ivey first proposed the $42 million combined increase for First Class Pre-K and Quality STARS in her Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposals. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2023 Legislative Recommendations.

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In addition to increased funding, the Task Force supports the Governor’s request that the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education develop a plan to reach full access to the voluntary First Class Pre-K program (estimated at 70 percent of four-year-olds) in Alabama’s 19 highest poverty counties by the fall of 2024. The Task Force also calls on the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to create a plan and timeline for reaching 70 percent of four-year-olds statewide by 2026, including plans for addressing obstacles to reaching this goal (such as transportation, the need for quality providers and teachers, funding for facilities, and after school care).

Pre-K Task Force member Lavetta Harvell, a Birmingham working mom with two children, was lucky enough to experience the multigenerational benefits of First Class Pre-K. However, that was not the case for every member of the popular facebook group that she runs, B’Ham Eventful Moms.

“I was able to switch from working an overnight shift to a day shift when my son was selected in the random drawing for First Class Pre-K,” said Harvell. “A lot of parents are looking for affordable, quality child care and their children didn’t get picked for pre-k. It’s hard enough finding child care, finding the funds to pay for child care, finding a safe environment. With First Class Pre-K, it’s free, it’s safe and they’re learning. My son has learned so much.”

The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/2023recommendations/.

The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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