Alabama's First Class Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program leads the nation in quality for the eighth year in a row, according to a new study released Tuesday. 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).
"A strong foundation is critical to a child's education, and Alabama's First Class voluntary pre-k program provides that to the children who are able to participate," Governor Robert Bentley said. "By participating in our voluntary pre-k program, families can ensure their children will be well-prepared for success in school and throughout their lives."
Alabama's voluntary pre-k program is managed by the Alabama Office of School Readiness. The office is part of the Alabama Department of Children's Affairs, which is overseen by Governor Bentley.
"Governor Bentley's leadership has been critical to shaping the vision for the future of Alabama's First Class Pre-K program," DCA Commissioner Jeana Ross said. "The NIEER study recognizes Alabama's commitment to the quality and design of our pre-k program, and the results show that this program is a powerful investment with short-term and long-term benefits for children."
Currently, nine percent of Alabama's four-year-olds are enrolled in the First Class program. Thanks to Legislative support last year, Governor Bentley announced nearly 100 grants across Alabama to provide access for more children. In Governor Bentley's budget recommendation this year, he included a $10 million increase in funding to Alabama's pre-k program to again expand access.
Over 100 new grants were approved Tuesday in 40 Alabama counties for the 2014-2015 school year. Six counties in Alabama's Black Belt region received new pre-k grants. The grants will expand Alabama's First Class voluntary pre-k program to more schools, preschools, child care centers and Head Start locations. Grants were awarded based on several criteria including local needs, local demand and high quality standards.
The grants announced Tuesday represent approximately $7.4 million of the additional funding approved for voluntary pre-k. With the new grants, over 1,800 more children will have access to a voluntary pre-k program in Alabama.
"These grants are one of the best investments we can make to improve the quality of education in Alabama," Governor Robert Bentley said. "These grants will give more families the option of enrolling their children in Alabama's nationally recognized voluntary pre-k program, and I will continue my efforts to expand access to First Class in future years."
"Our goal with these grants is to provide access to voluntary high quality pre-k to every four-year old child in Alabama whose parents choose for them to attend," added Ross. "The grant process was designed to strategically add new classes and enhance the quality of programs serving our state's four-year olds. Thanks to the support of Governor Bentley, we are working to allow more students than ever before to have access to a quality pre-k program in Alabama."