Pre-Kindergarten program leads nation in quality

Published 2:26 pm Thursday, May 14, 2015

By Morgan Burkett
The Greenville Advocate

Alabama’s First Class Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program continues to lead the nation in quality for the ninth year in a row, according to a new study released Tuesday.

During Gov. Robert Bentley’s State of the State address in 2015, he emphasized the need to increase funding and access to First Class Pre-K.

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“A strong economic future is grounded in high quality education, and Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Program provides a great foundation for students to prepare for success in life,” Bentley said. “Alabama’s voluntary Pre-K Program boasts standards among the highest quality of any state, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Our emphasis on quality is paying off in Alabama, and my goal is to continue to expand our Pre-K program because it makes a real difference in the lives of Alabama’s children.”

In April, the Senate passed a $6 billion education budget, which includes $13.5 million additional dollars for preschool.

The House has yet to take up the Senate-approved budget bill.

 In the 2014-2015 school year, $10 million in increased funding has been allocated to developing Pre-K and opening up slots for an additional 1,800 4-year-olds.

“We are fortunate to have Pre-K program in Greenville, Georgiana, and McKenzie,” said Butler County Schools Superintendent Amy Bryan. “Though we can only serve 90 students per year under the current funding, we apply for more funding every single year in hopes of adding more classrooms. Not only has our state consistently been No. 1 for quality Pre-K on a national scale, but Butler County Schools’ Bright Beginnings Pre-K program won a state recognition, Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools Banner School award in 2010.”

Tera Simmons, administrative assistant for student learning with the Butler County School System said the system’s Pre-K program has a proven track record and that the school system would benefit from additional funding, which would allow more students to take advantage of the program.

“I am elated that additional funding will be provided for Pre-K and I’m hopeful that Bright Beginnings will receive funding for additional classes,” said Simmons. “We have approximately 50 students on the waiting list for next years’ Bright Beginnings classes in Greenville. It is very difficult to have so many people to register for Bright Beginnings and only to be able to fill a few classes. We have longitudinal data over seven years the reveals that the students who complete Bright Beginnings outperform the other students in kindergarten. Bright Beginnings Pre-K program offers the students a jump start and ensures they are prepared socially, physically, emotionally, and intellectually for kindergarten.”

Alabama is one of only four states in the country to meet all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

“Last year, children who attended our First Class Pre-K program were less likely to fail a grade in school, and across all grades, consistently scored higher in reading and in math than those who did not attend,” Bentley said. “Yet only 13 percent of 4-year-olds in Alabama have access to First Class voluntary Pre-K, and that is why once again, we must continue to increase funding in order to expand this opportunity.”