By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
The federal government has awarded the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education more than $10 million to develop the state’s early child care services.
Governor Kay Ivey announced on Tuesday that $10,620,000 was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Care (OCC) through their Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five (PDG B-5) Program.
“We welcome these much-needed funds to help us focus on building a strong foundation for Alabama’s children. As we continue to grow our First Class Pre-K program, we must also expand its learning methods through third grade,” Governor Ivey said. “When students are successful in their first few years of school they are much more likely to be successful in life. I applaud Secretary Jeana Ross and her team at the Department of Early Childhood Education for seeking out this opportunity and presenting an incredible plan.”
This grant award will fund the Alabama Connections for Early Care and Education project, which coordinates existing Federal, State, local and non-governmental resources to meet the needs of children and parents.
“Through this much needed system, Alabama will update and consolidate existing state needs assessments to develop a strategic plan that facilitates collaboration and coordination among existing programs of early childhood care and education in a mixed delivery system across the State,” Secretary Ross said.
The PDG B-5 grants, which differ significantly from the previous Preschool Development Grants, are designed to fund states and territories to conduct a comprehensive statewide birth through five needs assessment, followed by in-depth strategic planning, while enhancing parental choice and expanding the current mixed-delivery system consisting of a wide range of provider types and settings, including child care centers and home-based child care providers, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, state prekindergarten (Pre-K) programs, and home visiting service providers across the public, private, and faith-based sectors.
States and territories were invited to be innovative in planning, designing, enhancing, and evaluating their early childhood care and education mixed-delivery systems. They were also strongly encouraged to engage and develop their application jointly with a full range of early childhood stakeholders, including partners at the local community level and parents, to engage in system design and development that best meets the needs of families and their young children, particularly low-income and disadvantaged children.
Grants were awarded to 45 states and territories and ranged between $538,000 and $10,620,000, depending on the proposed plans. The grants were awarded for 2019 and Alabama will have the opportunity to apply for renewal of the grant prior to the end of the year.
Alabama boasts the nation’s highest rated Pre-K program for quality, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. The state has maintained that high quality rating while trying to grow access to the program. Recent funding investments have expanded First Class to 1,045 classrooms serving almost 19,000 students statewide, or 32 percent of the eligible population.
A recent study conducted by the First Class Pre-K Research Evaluation Team, which includes researchers from the UAB School of Public Health, UAB School of Education, and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama recently found that the benefits of the state’s pre-k programs found it to benefit students overall with no signs of “fade out” over time.
Caroline Beck is a reporter based in Montgomery. You can contact her at Caroline@aldailynews.com or follow her on Twitter at @CarolineBeckADN.