Nation's top rated pre-k program comes to Alabama

Posted by Mark Wilder -  email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Governor Bob Riley announced Tuesday that 27 classrooms have been selected to become First Class Pre-K sites.  With these additional classrooms, the total number of children being served by the nation's top-rated pre-kindergarten program increases to 3,808.

Fifteen of the 27 classrooms are receiving Pre-K Excellence Grants in the amount of $45,000 each.  These grants enable classrooms to meet Alabama's high quality pre-K standards, which are rated the best in the nation by the National Institute for Early Education Research.  The remaining 12 classrooms are receiving Pre-K State Supported Slots of at least $45,000, with additional funding based on the number of low-income and middle-income children served.

Of the new First Class classrooms, 16 are in public schools, eight are with private child care or faith-based organizations and three are current Head Start programs. With the new classrooms announced today, there are now a total of 213 First Class Pre-K classrooms in the state.

The number of four year-olds being served in Alabama has increased by 68 percent since Governor Riley launched the First Class initiative in November 2007. "Alabama is providing the nation's highest quality pre-K program to more students than ever before.  That's going to make a huge difference in each child's ability to learn and the opportunities they'll have for the rest of their lives.  When we invest in First Class, we're making an investment in the future of Alabama.  Studies and research show that children who attend high quality pre-K do better not only through their years in school, they do better as adults throughout their life," said Governor Riley.

"We're excited to be expanding First Class so more of Alabama's children benefit from an effective, high quality early education experience that prepares them for school success and lifelong learning," said Dr. Marquita Davis, Commissioner of Children's Affairs and a member of the Governor's Cabinet.

Governor Riley launched the First Class initiative in November 2007 to expand voluntary access to pre-K for Alabama's four year-olds.  In order to become a First Class Pre-K site, classrooms must meet certain benchmarks including meeting child care standards, having no more than 18 students per classroom and a 9:1 student-to-staff ratio, and having a qualified lead teacher with at least a bachelor's degree in childhood development or early childhood education.

Unlike other states that have adopted either costly "universal" programs for all four year-olds or programs targeted only toward "at-risk" children, First Class serves four year-olds from families across the economic spectrum but is also affordable both for the state and the families who enroll their children in it. First Class uses a combination of Pre-K Excellence Grants to ensure First Class classrooms maintain high quality standards and State Supported Slots to keep costs affordable.

The grants of up to $45,000 are awarded to public school systems, Head Start centers and private childcare centers to help them achieve the high quality standards the program requires.  Each classroom can charge up to $300 per child per month, but parents can get help based on their income level to make sure access is affordable.

This model allows Alabama to build on its existing preschool infrastructure, while providing more affordable access to voluntary, high-quality pre-K for a greater number of Alabama's four year-olds.

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