Alabama Expands Funding and Access to Pre-K Programs

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced the expansion of Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program. While HB 166 was signed into law in May, it has been getting more attention as Fiscal Year 2014 nears, the education budget will create 93 new grant recipients in pre-kindergarten programs throughout Alabama.

 The new grants will expand the number of students able to attend pre-k programs by 40 percent, equal to an expected 1,670 additional students being able to attend pre-k programs. That’s in addition to the near 3,900 4-year-olds attending pre-k programs in the previous school year. In fiscal 2013 the pre-k funding was $19.1 million in state, increasing 49 percent to $28.5 million in FY 2014. Gov. Bentley had originally requested $31.6 million for pre-k funding in the state, which would have been a 65 percent increase.

Alabama’s pre-k education is considered very good, meeting all 10 quality benchmarks set by the National Institute for Early Education Research, however only 6 percent of 4-year-olds currently have access. The additional funding should allow the state to grow that to 9 to 10 percent next year. "We want families to have the opportunity for a voluntary, high quality pre-k program for their children because we know that these high-quality programs prepare children for success in school and in life," said Jeana Ross, commissioner of the Department of Children’s Affairs. Gov. Bentley notes, “Statistics show these students tend to graduate from high school and have fewer disciplinary problems if they attend pre-k.”

Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, stated it would cost the state $144 million to fully implement pre-k across the state. "We don't have enough teachers to do that, so we're doing it the smart way," he said, noting the end goal is to incrementally, and eventually, reach 100 percent of 4-year-olds in the State. With a goal of preparing every student to be college and career ready, the state has identified pre-k education as a valuable tool in achieving that goal.