Robert Bentley announces 115 new preschool classrooms, $15 million in VPK grants

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Preschool, pre-k, kids, classroom

Gov. Robert Bentley announced an action on Tuesday that aims to boost Alabama’s troubled public education regime.

Bentley’s office says they have approved 115 new First Class Pre-K classrooms, bringing the total number of classes in the voluntary early education program to more than 800 statewide.

The expansion will be bolstered by $15 million in new state grants, which will give some 2,700 additional Alabama 4-year-olds access to pre-Kindergarten schooling. Experts say preschool can be decisive for students’ future educational attainment.

The additional classrooms will go into effect for the 2016-17 school year, according to Bentley.

“Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten is a proven program that prepares students for success,” said Bentley in a statement.

“Only 20 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program. Along with the support of legislative funding, we will continue to expand access to this program until every Alabama parent who wants their child to attend has access. I appreciate the staff at the Department of Early Childhood Education for working hard to help organizations receive grants,” said Bentley.

The move required approval by lawmakers, which it received during the 2016 Legislative Session.

“Alabama First Class Pre-K is a high-quality program of excellence that provides children the rich learning experiences that significantly impacts school achievement and life success,” Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross said. “The First Class Pre-K program model produces real, sustained results in closing the learning gaps for children and fosters the social, emotional and cognitive development of all children. As the access to this high-quality program continues to expand, Alabama will determinedly preserve this standard of quality.”

Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, also expressed her gratitude for the new funding.

“We are grateful that state leaders once again prioritized some of the growth in the Education Trust Fund budget to expand Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program,” said Muhlendorf. “As a result, more families than ever before will be able to find a First Class Pre-K classroom in their community.”

According to ASRA, education funding with the new increased totals changes as follows:

FY 2017 Funding: $64.5 million, an increase of $16 million over the current year funding.

Number of New First Class Pre-K Classrooms Projected for 2016-17: 155
Approximate # of New First Class Participants Projected for 2016-17: 2,800

Approximate Total # of First Class Pre-K Sites Projected for 2016-2017: 807
Approximate Total # of First Class Participants Projected for 2016-2017: 14,600
Projected Percent of State Four Year Olds with Access for 2016-2017: 25 percent

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