MONTGOMERY— Alabama’s First Class Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Program continues to lead the nation in quality for the tenth year in a row, according to a new study released Thursday. Alabama is one of only two states in the country to meet all 10 quality benchmarks as established by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
“A strong economic future is grounded in high quality education, and Alabama’s First Class Pre-K Program provides a great foundation for students to prepare for success in life,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K Program continues to boast standards of high quality and has been nationally recognized as a model for other programs. Our emphasis on quality is paying off in Alabama, and my goal is to continue to expand our pre-k program because it makes a real difference in the lives of Alabama’s children.”
“Alabama First Class Pre-K is a high quality program of excellence that values the importance of highly skilled teachers in providing children the learning experiences that significantly impact school achievement and life success,” Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross said. “Through a coaching and monitoring system each pre-k class is supported to provide the quality that produces real sustained results in closing the learning gaps for children and fosters the social, emotional and cognitive development of all children. As the access to this high quality program continues to expand, Alabama will determinedly preserve this standard of quality.”
In Alabama, enrollment was up by 1,738 students, a substantial increase in 2014-2015, while maintaining its strong rating in terms of quality standards– meeting all 10 of NIEER’s minimum quality standards benchmarks. Alabama also improved its national standing for state resources dedicated to pre-K by three positions, increasing by nearly $1,000 per child to remain just above the national average.
“Alabama’s economic future depends on early investment in its kids,” said NIEER Director Steve Barnett. “Ensuring that every child has access to high-quality preschool can help pave the way for their success in school, on the job, and in Alabama’s communities. The state made notable progress on early education thanks to strong state leadership, and more remains to be done. Alabama’s kids, their families, and the state depend on it.”
The report finds that total state spending on pre-K programs across the country increased by 10 percent, or $553 million, since the previous year, bringing state spending in 2014-2015 to over $6.2 billion. The number of children served by state-funded pre-K served increased by 37,167 in 2014-2105, bringing the total to almost 1.4 million children – the largest number of children ever served by state-funded pre-K. With an average rate of $4,489, states also made one of the most significant increases in spending per child in recent history.
“We’re encouraged to see several states including Alabama increasing enrollment and maintaining a commitment to quality, but access to high-quality pre-K in the United States remains low and highly unequal,” said Barnett. “Expanding access to quality pre-K programs is one of the best investments we can make, and it’s critical that we raise and standardize salaries for early education teachers and have strong Dual language Learner policies in states with large Hispanic populations. State governments should increase and stabilize funding for pre-K and raise standards for the benefit of all children.”
The State of Preschool Report reviews state-funded pre-K programs on 10 benchmarks of quality standards, including the presence of a qualified instructor, class size, teacher-to-student ratio, presence of an assistant, and length of instruction per day.