Pre-K advocates call for additional $20 million in funding

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The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force (ASRA) has released its 2016 legislative request for First Class Pre-K funding.

The increase would nudge the state’s funding for its “high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten” program from $48.5 million to $68.5 million, with a goal to have the program fully funded by 2020.

According to a news release, only 20 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds have access to the First Class program and the increase in funding would provide an additional 210 classrooms and help to enroll about 3,800 additional students.

“We still have a long-way to go before every family that chooses to enroll their child in the state’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program will have an opportunity to do so,” Mike Luce, vice chairman of Harbert Management and a co-chairman of ASRA’s Pre-K Task Force, said in the release. “Alabama’s economy is improving and new revenue is expected to be available to fund education priorities. We encourage lawmakers to appropriate some of this increased revenue into expanding access to First Class Pre-K program.”

The task force consists of 51 members, all prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities, and first proposed expanding access to Pre-K programs in 2012. Now entering the fourth year of a 10-year campaign to incrementally increase funding until the program is fully funded, the state must appropriate the additional funding if it is going to meet the task force’s target.

Last year, the First Class Pre-K system received an increase in funding of $10 million to bring its total funding to $48.5 million. The increase allowed the program to 6 percent more four-year-old students.
Further, Gov. Robert Bentley announced more than 200 grants for the program last year, allowing it to reach an additional 3,600 students.
A priority of the Bentley administration has been to ensure that all students have access to the program by 2019.
Currently, there are no bills slated to come before the legislature addressing Alabama’s Pre-K programs.

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is managed by the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and has been ranked No. 1 in the country for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research, despite only 20 percent of eligible children having access to the program.

The entire recommendation can be viewed at alabamaschoolreadiness.org/recommendations.

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