Martha Roby: First class pre-k a model for success

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This past week I had the privilege of cutting the ribbon on one of Alabama’s new First Class Pre-K locations at the Montgomery YMCA Goodtimes Center. It was exciting to join local and state officials, teachers, education advocates, and, of course, students to celebrate more children gaining access to Alabama’s high-quality pre-kindergarten program.

Pre-kindergarten is a voluntary option in Alabama, as it should be. But, it is an important option to offer. Studies show that getting a strong start in pre-K can make a tremendous difference in students’ success down the road. Children who attend a high-quality pre-K program earn higher marks in school, are less likely to repeat a grade, are more likely to graduate high school and attend college, generally go on to earn better salaries as adults, and are more likely to stay out of prison and off public assistance. The critical component that makes the difference is quality, which is why Alabama’s commitment to high standards is so important.

Some may not realize that Alabama’s First Class Pre-K is the number one pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. In fact, Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program has been ranked number one for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research for the last ten years. The only problem has been limited access to the program. Thankfully, that is changing. The number of First Class Pre-K classrooms has grown from just 57 in 2006 to 816 today. The Montgomery YMCA Goodtimes Center was one of 164 new classrooms to come online this year. Now, 14,688 Alabama four-year olds have access to high-quality Pre-K. This growth has been made possible by increased investment from state lawmakers and a federal Preschool Development Grant.

Most importantly, as Alabama has grown its pre-K program to reach more and more kids every year, it has done so with never once giving up the commitment to quality. First Class remains the gold standard for pre-K nationally, and that’s something we can all be proud of.

I believe the success of First Class Pre-K is a lesson for how to tap into the amazing potential that exists in our state. It proves that with the proper commitment to quality, our students here in Alabama can have access to the best education anywhere in the country.

It also shows that, if we’re going to build a world class education system in Alabama, it won’t be from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. If we’re going to offer every Alabama student access to a better education, it won’t be done overnight with broad-sweeping policies, but over time – one school at a time and one student at a time. That’s how First Class Pre-K has done it.

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Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband, Riley and their two children.

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