By Slade Blackwell
Last week, I was proud to stand next to Gov. Robert Bentley at Leeds Elementary School as he announced 93 new grants to expand Alabama’s pre-K program. These grants will allow this program to expand to several schools and pre-school centers throughout the state, including ones in Jefferson and Shelby counties. While I am thrilled at this progress, we need to do more.
We are lucky enough in Alabama to have First Class-a high quality, voluntary pre-K program-which is nationally recognized. However, unfortunately this program is not available to all that can benefit from it. For example, currently only 6 percent of 4-year-olds in the state are enrolled in the First Class program. This is a staggeringly low number for a state that has one of the best pre-K programs in the nation.
During the 2013 legislative session, I was pleased to see funding for pre-K increase from $19.1 million to $28.5 million in the 2014 education budget. The 93 grants announced last week represent $7.26 million of this additional funding and will increase access from 6 percent to 9 to 10 percent of 4-year-olds, which is an estimated 1,670 additional children. While First Class is a voluntary program for everyone, in order for more children to take advantage of it, we must continue to work on increasing funding.
Pre-K education is a vital part of a child’s life because it lays the foundation for learning at an early age. Studies have shown that providing this foundation for children will help them to be more successful throughout elementary school, high school and even college.
I am extremely proud of First Class and the progress we have made in Alabama for pre-K funding. I look forward to seeing this program expand in the years to come and I will continue to work with my legislative colleagues to increase funding in future budgets.
Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby counties in District 15. For more information about Slade, visit www.sladeblackwell.com or follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sladeblackwell. To reach him by phone, call 205-913-7676.