Robert Bentley announces increased grants for VPK programs

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Tuesday afternoon Gov. Robert Bentley issued a news release touting his administration’s efforts to increase funding for Alabama’s voluntary prekindergarten programs — recently called one of the nation’s best — amid an ongoing budget deficit looming in the state budget.

“The most important part of a child’s education is a good, solid foundation at a young age, and our First Class voluntary pre-k program provides that,” Bentley wrote in a prepared statement Tuesday.

“All children, regardless of where they live, deserve the opportunity to excel. A high-quality, voluntary pre-k program improves their chances of success in school long-term.  This is a wise investment that will benefit children and families throughout Alabama.”

After the Legislature’s approval of a state education budget, the governor highlighted ongoing issues with access to VPK programs, which sags below national averages despite the recent national success.

“Demand for these grants has far exceeded our supply,” Bentley said in a release.

“Only 13 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program and that is the reason we need to continue expanding access to this program. It is my goal to give more families the option of enrolling their children in voluntary pre-k, and I will continue my efforts to expand access to First Class even more,” the governor said.

Budget talks are expected to continue until near the end of the Regular Session, scheduled for June 15. Major top-line spending levels will depend on the resolution of a deal on gaming, on which there are currently competing proposals.

Sen. Del Marsh has promulgated a proposal that would provide for a state lottery and the opening of new gambling facilities to help raise revenue. The Poarch Creek Indian nation, meanwhile, has offered to cover the projected budget hole in exchange for exclusive gaming rights throughout the state.

Bentley has asked the Legislature for a series of tax increases, including on cigarettes a proposal which has led to discussion of changing the way all vices are taxed in special session. So far talk of taxes have proven unpopular among rank-and-file lawmakers in the Statehouse though Speaker Mike Hubbard has joined the Governor in his efforts.

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