Ivey touts Alabama’s nationally-recognized Pre-K program at conference
But early childhood education is one of the exceptions. And it’s a major positive exception, according to public officials who view Pre-K programs as an essential need in developing children academically.
State officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, are spotlighting the program and its successes in the weeks leading up to the start of the 2019 Legislature’s spring session.
“Clearly, what we have going on in Alabama is working,” Ivey said Thursday, speaking during the kickoff of a two-day annual conference for early childhood professionals at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center. A large crowd, estimated at around 3,000 people, attended.
“The standard of excellence that we apply in Pre-K has to be maintained throughout other areas of early childhood education,” Ivey said.
Indeed, the Pre-K program remains one of Alabama’s biggest assets.
- The state’s First-Class Pre-K program has seen annual growth in students and classrooms, and is praised by national groups for its high qualities and standards.
- An analysis released last month showed students who received First-Class Pre-K education in Alabama were 1.6 percentage points more likely to be proficient in reading and 3.2 percent more likely to be proficient in math compared to students who did not.
- Public officials from Hawaii and Nevada have reached out to the state for more information, and a contingent from Tennessee recently visited to learn more about the programs. Montana’s governor and two state senators also visited.
Tax money continues to pour into the program in an effort to continue its expansion. The 2018 Legislature bolstered the funding by $18.5 million, the largest ever single-year increase in program dollars.
This school year, the First-Class Pre-K program broke the 1,000 classroom mark with 1,040 classrooms serving 18,720 children age 4.
Although the Pre-K program is voluntary for parents, it’s reaching 35 percent of the state’s eligible 4-year-old population.
Ivey anticipates more funding, and predicts more growth, next year. “Thank goodness our budgets are good and strong,” Ivey said. “We are in good financial health at the moment.”
At the same time, Ivey and Jeana Ross, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education since 2012, say there is room for improvement.
Notably, Ivey said during her speech, is that reading proficiency needs bolstering within the third grade. Only 35 percent of Alabama’s third-graders read at a grade-level proficiency.
She highlighted her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” education initiative which includes Pre-K to third-grade as one of its main strategies, with a goal of having every third-grade student in Alabama reading at a grade-level proficiency by 2022.
The Legislature, last year, added $4 million to boost the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI), which will be used to refocus reading efforts on grades K-3.
The state, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in December 2017, launched a Pre-K-3rd grade integrated approach to early learning. A pilot program, it was rolled out into 35 classrooms during the 2017-2018 school year. Another 75 classrooms were added this school year.
The state was recently awarded a $10.6 million federal grant to undertake a needs assessment for pre-school development. The grant will help the state craft a strategic plan, and Ross said her agency has one year to put it together.
Ross said the goal is to make sure that every parent has access to P-K who desires it. In the past year, 6,000 children were unable to participate for lack of room, although their parents had signed them up for enrollment.
“We hope to be able to expand this again next year,” Ross said.
First-Class Pre-K program started up in 2000 with a mere eight classrooms. The following year, it grew to 35 classrooms and it hasn’t slowed down since.
The program operates in public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based institutions, Head Start centers and military installations.
The state funds the program with competitive grants requiring matching funds.
Said Ross, “You can see, this has been a great expansion.”
Ross said that Thursday conference attendance also reflected the program’s growth. She said the 2003 conference drew few people by comparison.
This year, sleek video productions abound at the Convention Center, and meeting rooms have been packed for presentations and discussion sessions.
This year’s program includes two days full of conferences and events allowing early childhood professionals a chance to network.
“Alabama is getting a lot of attention lately,” Ross said, referring to the interest about the state’s program from other states.https://www.al.com/education/2019/01/ivey-touts-alabamas-nationally-recognized-pre-k-program-at-conference.html