By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education will add 107 pre-K classrooms in 33 counties this fall, the office of Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday.
Ivey’s office said in a statement that the new classrooms will expand the state’s voluntary kindergarten program to reach nearly 19,000 children in more than 1,000 classes in 67 counties. The program serves 32 percent of eligible four-year-olds in the state.
Ada Wyhe, spokeswoman for Alabama’s early childhood education department, calculated that “full statewide access” would serve about 70 percent of eligible 4-year-olds because participation in the program is voluntary. She said there are still nearly 40,000 eligible children who do not have access to pre-K because of inadequate funding.
This year the Alabama legislature approved an $18.5 million budget expansion of the state’s pre-K program, increasing the 2019 program budget to $96 million.
A week ago, the National Institute for Early Education Research rated Alabama as having the highest-quality, state-funded voluntary pre-K program in the nation.
“First Class Pre-K is a nationally-recognized program of excellence,” Jeana Ross, Secretary of Early Childhood Education said in Monday’s release. “The program framework encompasses all aspects of the highest quality early learning experiences that ensure school readiness for children, and this emphasis on quality impacts student outcomes far beyond kindergarten.”
In February, Ivey announced a study of Alabama third graders that found the state’s pre-K program significantly narrowed the typical academic achievement gaps between children in poverty and their more affluent peers, and between minority children and non-minority children, according to the release.
Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported that students who participated in the pre-K program are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level.