Alabama’s lawmakers made a wise choice this past session when they approved a $26.8 million increase in funding for the state’s Pre-K program.
For 13 years in a row Alabama’s First Class Pre-K has been ranked the nation’s best pre-kindergarten program by the National Institute for Early Education Research. That’s an incredible accomplishment that all Alabamians should boast about with pride.
Our state legislators obviously understand the significance of early childhood learning. They have consistently upped the funding for the Pre-K program since its inception in 2005-06.
That first year the program operated on a meager $4.3 million budget. In the closing hours of the 2019 session, lawmakers approved a $122.8 million Pre-K budget — a nearly 28 percent increase over the $96 million budget for the current school year.
Those additional dollars will be used to create 200 more Pre-K classrooms across the state, according to the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. This will raise the percentage of 4-year-olds statewide enrolled in Pre-K classes from 32 percent to nearly 40 percent.
Waiting lists emphasize the need for more Pre-K services. Every school in the Lauderdale County School System has a waiting list, and each of those waiting lists have 25 or more names on them.
Each pre-kindergarten classroom can serve 18 students, and the classes are filled by a lottery-style drawing.
Amy Jones, director of Instruction and Federal Programs, said Lauderdale County School officials want to add six more classes next school year, bringing their total to 21.
Colbert County Superintendent Gale Satchel said her system hopes to add another classroom at New Bethel and Hatton elementary schools.
“The importance of education for our youngest children can’t be overstated, and our Legislature gets it,” said Satchel.
She’s right. And their commitment has now stretched across seven years of a 10-year campaign to provided pre-kindergarten services to as many of the state’s 4-year-olds as possible.
The First Class program has given us a shining example of how bipartisan support can foster great change if lawmakers have the political willpower to invest the money that’s needed.