The call to increase availability of quality pre-kindergarten education appears to unite a wide range of political foes.
Imagine getting football fans of Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Georgia, Florida, Army and Navy to sit in the stands together and root for the same team. It sounds like a ripe environment for a brawl rather than a setting to accomplish a common goal.
But anything is possible after Tuesday night. President Barack Obama’s call to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” mirrors an idea that has united politicians, business leaders and educators in Alabama.
In late 2012, Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he wants the state to increase spending for its preschool budget by $12.5 million. His eventual goal is to increase the budget enough over 10 years to provide preschool education for every 4-year-old in Alabama.
It is remarkable that Bentley’s plan has been embraced by both business and education leaders. It is unimaginable, to think Bentley and Obama could agree on anything, but that appears to be the case after the president’s State of the Union address.
The New York Times reported Thursday that in the 2010-11 school year, 28 percent of 4-year-olds in the United States were in state-financed preschool programs. In Alabama, only 6 percent of this age group is covered by the state’s program.
Allison de la Torre, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, told the Times that the state is trying to invest in a work force that can compete in 20 years with other states and nations.
After watching Obama’s address Tuesday night, several local school officials expressed support for the president’s preschool plan. “I’m a believer in that,” Sheffield Superintendent Tim Morgan said. “If students come in behind, it’s hard for them to catch up.”
Early education can reduce crime rates, lower the number of dropouts and lead to higher incomes, according to research cited by advocates. The fledgling pre-K program in Alabama is among only five such programs that have received top marks through the National Institute for Early Education Research. The people of Alabama can be proud of that honor and use it to increase the reach of the program.
Finding the money to expand quality preschool education is the challenge for Bentley and Alabama legislators. As a poor state that receives more money from Washington than its people provide in federal taxes, this is another area in which Alabama may need federal assistance.
It is good, then, to know the president has a proposal that could give every child in Alabama a better chance to succeed and contribute back to society as an adult.