Pre-k advocates seeking funding increase in Alabama


Pre-k advocates seeking funding increase in Alabama

Increased state funding for pre-k programs has allowed Slocomb Elementary School to offer a pre-k classroom for the past two years, allowing local four-year-olds to get a better start on their education. Early childhood education advocates are pushing for increased funding next year, which will allow the program to reach more students.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to prepare children for kindergarten,” Slocomb Elementary School Principal Barbara Greathouse said.

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Allison Muhlendorf, executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, said her organization’s Pre-K Task Force is recommending increasing the budget for state-funded pre-k programs by $20 million.

Alabama has one of the best-regarded pre-K programs in the country, but it only provides services for about a fifth of eligible four-year-olds. The program is delivered through public schools, private day cares and religiously-affiliated organizations. The Alabama School Readiness Alliance has advocated for increases for the past few years and has gotten them. The organization has a 10-year plan to gradually increase funding until all eligible students are covered.

State Rep. Donnie Chesteen visited Slocomb Elementary School on Monday and said he supports increasing funding for pre-K. Chesteen said funding for education this year is likely to be better than it has been in several years and that the Legislature is looking at adding $50 million to the education budget, hiring about 475 new teachers and giving a 4 percent raise to educators making less than $75,000 and a 2 percent raise to those making more than $75,000.

“I can’t think of a better investment than continuing to increase funding for first class pre-k,” he said.

Slocomb’s current pre-k classroom accommodates 18 students. The class fills up quickly and additional funding could allow the school to open another.

Pre-k classrooms are taught by a highly qualified teacher and aide. Sarah Jones is the teacher at Slocomb Elementary.

Jones said the pre-k program helps acclimate students to school, giving them the social and academic skills they need to prosper.

“A lot of them haven’t been around other kids, they’ve been at home or with grandma,” she said.

Jones said the program has a real impact on students’ performance once they reach kindergarten. Research appears to support this claim.

Figures from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and other organizations show that Alabama First Class Pre-K alums consistently do well in kindergarten and outperform their peers in reading and math and are less likely to repeat a grade.