Governor Kay Ivey announced on Wednesday for the 12th year in a row, the sate’s First Class Pre-K program has been recognized as one of the nation’s highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten programs for four-year-olds.
Since 2003, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released a report titled the “State of Preschool Yearbook.” It is the only national report on state-funded pre-k programs with detailed information on enrollment, teacher qualifications, funding, and other policies.
In the 2017 edition of the report, Alabama is listed as one of only three states who meet all 10 of the new NIEER quality standards. The program has seen a lot of growth since 2016 with enrollment increasing by 2,700 children in the 2016-2017 school year; 14,032 total four-year-olds were enrolled in a First Class Pre-K classroom in Alabama the same year.
“The most important part of a child’s learning journey is a solid educational foundation,” Ivey said. “Providing a high-quality education for all Alabamians, at every stage of life, is my goal. For the 12th consecutive year, Alabama is a national leader in this arena. I am proud of the work of our Pre-K programs and I am thankful for the dedication of Secretary Ross in leading this program.”
Currently, the First Class Pre-K program is located in 941 classrooms across the state, and has been proven to increase reading and math proficiency for children in poverty.
This year, NIEER added new requirements to its quality benchmarks, including a new requirement for programs to be culturally sensitive, supported, and aligned with other state standards and child assessments; supports for curriculum implementation; professional development and coaching for lead and assistant teachers; and a continuous quality improvement system.
Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education, has overseen the large expansion of the program and has sought to maintain the same quality standards; “As Alabama continues to expand access to high-quality, voluntary pre-k for four-year-olds, the Department is committed to ensuring the highest quality early learning experiences – without compromise.”
Ivey has been working with the Alabama Legislature to increase the 2019 budget for the program to $96 million, which will fund an additional 100 classrooms, increasing the number of children served to more than 32 percent, and will allow the Department of Early Childhood Education to pay pre-k teachers a balanced wage to K-12 public school educators.