Five years later, the effort was recognized as one of only four programs nationally that met all 10 of the quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research. First Class, the name of Alabama’s program, has continued to meet those standards.
Unfortunately, only about 6 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds today attend pre-K classes. That is not enough. However, thanks to a modest increase in funding, that figure is expected to rise next year to about 10 percent.
That’s still not many, but it’s better.
If the state continues on this track, in 10 years all children whose parents want them in the program will have the opportunity to take part. Yes, progress in Alabama can be slow.
In addition to funding from the state through competitive grants to areas wanting to set up the classes, there is federal money through Head Start and private donations. The areas targeted are those with high poverty and where there is little access to other pre-K programs.
Pre-K is an investment that pays off, as study after study shows. Children who begin their education early are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, get a good job, own a home, avoid welfare dependency and stay out of jail.
These students succeed, and in doing so they pull up the test scores of the schools they attend. Successful students could help Alabama have fewer “failing” schools and remove any academic need for legislation like the Alabama Accountability Act.
Pre-K classes can be taught in public schools, private schools, private day-care centers, Head Start programs, faith-based programs and military installations so long as the location provides 25 percent in matching funds or in-kind donations.
Alabama’s First Class pre-K is a well-run, national praised, productive program. If legislators truly want to improve education in Alabama, they should give First Class all the support we can afford and forget about the tax-credit-to-switch-schools scheme passed in the last session.