Advocates call for expansion of Alabama pre-K program

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 6:58 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Advocates for early childhood education are calling on lawmakers to expand the budget for quality pre-K in the state.

The push for more pre-K is a part of a long-term improvement plan from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. They want the budget increased because they say a solid educational foundation sets the student up for success, but also the education system itself, and the workforce students could eventually enter.

“We are taxing working parents with something called child care,” said Callier Tynes the CEO of VOICES for Alabama’s Children.

This is a big reason advocates and lawmakers want to make it easier to access free quality early education in Alabama.

“It not only supports children’s brain development and their abilities to become strong, wildly successful adults,” said Tynes. “But it also gives Alabama parents a raise.”

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K is ranked number one in the country for quality.

“It’s been very exciting to hear from people all around the country that are looking at Alabama as a model for what quality pre-K can be,” said Rep. Wes Kitchens, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Study Commission on Expanding Access to Quality Pre-Kindergarten.

And early childhood advocates are working to keep the program number one and make it larger by asking legislators to approve a $22.5 million budget increase, which would make their funding over $171 million.

“We have a plan to fully expand Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2025-26 school year,” said Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

More funding would help them reach that goal by creating 125 new pre-K classrooms next fall, bringing enrollment to 45% of the state’s 4-year-olds, giving a pay increase to existing teachers and supporting the department’s new teacher apprenticeship program.

“When we started discussing First Class Pre-K, the initial impression from the business community was that it was just going to be another day care program,” said Bob Powers, chair of ASRA’s pre-K task force.

But the high-quality pre-K has given business leaders a different point of view.

“It helped students with reading and math, attendance, discipline, just across the board to things that you want to have, not only in the classroom, but eventually in the workforce,” said Powers.

There is other legislation focused on making sure young students have a good foundation for learning if they aren’t able to go to pre-K or kindergarten,

HB331 is not specifically for preschool, but it would require students who did not go to pre-K or kindergarten to take a test at the beginning of first grade to make sure that they have the foundational skills that they need.

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