MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama's First Class Pre-K program will continue to grow in the upcoming school year, adding 107 classrooms across 33 counties in the fall, according to Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.
The expansion will bring the number of voluntary pre-kindergarten classrooms to 1,040 statewide and will be available in all 67 counties.
The state still has a long way to go to mark full coverage. The expansion will raise statewide coverage to just under one-third of eligible 4-year-olds. Another 40,000 eligible children are still waiting for access.
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"Having a strong start to one's educational journey is critical to having a strong finish when it comes time to enter the workforce," Ivey said. "Alabama's voluntary First Class Pre-K program is, without question, the best in the nation. I am proud that we can increase the reach of this important educational opportunity, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to further expand the availability of voluntary Pre-K."
The legislature approved a $19 million expansion of the program in 2018, the largest single-year financial increase the program has ever experienced, bringing its 2019 budget to $96 million.
Teachers will get the same 2.5 percent cost of living increase as K-12 public school teachers, according to the Department of Early Childhood Education.
The announcement of an expansion comes a week after Alabama First Class Pre-K was recognized by the National Institute for Early Education Research for having the highest-quality, state-funded voluntary pre-k program in the nation.
Gov. Ivey's office says a study of Alabama's third-graders "found the state's pre-k program significantly narrowed the academic achievement gaps that typically exist between children in poverty and their more affluent peers, and between minority children and non-minority children. "
And research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham "found that students who participated in First Class Pre-K are more likely to be proficient in reading and math at every grade level, consistent with the results from previous statewide and national studies," Ivey's office stated.
The outcome has prompted Harvard researchers to create a full-length documentary about the state's program. It will be released nationally in Spring 2019.