The department received 163 new classroom applications, and 123 of those met the qualifying criteria for funding. With the $6 million appropriated for First Class Pre-K in the Fiscal Year 2021 Education Trust Fund budget enacted on Monday, the department was able to fund 55 new classrooms, with 68 additional eligible alternate classrooms on the waitlist.

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recently ranked Alabama First Class Pre-K as the nation’s highest quality state pre-kindergarten program for the 14th consecutive year.i

“Thank you to our state leaders for ensuring that even more children and their families are provided the high quality early learning experiences that will positively impact their educational attainment and future success,” stated Secretary of Early Childhood Education Jeana Ross.

“This important support for pre-k will keep many of our youngest learners from starting school already a year behind and keep educational inequities and achievement gaps from compounding in K-12,” she continued. “We are appreciative of legislative leadership who have committed to further expanding pre-k with any identified additional funds.”

New classrooms will expand access to the state funded, voluntary pre-kindergarten program to 22,500 children in the 2020-2021 school year, with more than 1,250 classrooms statewide serving 38% of four-year-old children, moving closer to reaching Alabama’s pre-k access goal of reaching 40,000 students. Since 2013, state appropriations for pre-k expansion have increased 350%. An additional 110 teachers will be employed through this year’s First Class Pre-K program funding increase.

Last year, a major study concluded that students who participate in the voluntary pre-k program are more likely to be proficient in math and reading, with no evidence of fade out of the benefits over time. These long-term results hold true even after the study controlled for student demographics and other variables such as poverty.

“Alabama First Class Pre-K is a model of excellence in early learning for the nation,” Ivey said in a statement. “By adding 55 classrooms, we will ensure that 22,500 children will build a strong foundation for their educational journey. I applaud the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education for their uncompromising work in providing high quality early childhood education.”