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AL Pre-K waiting lists likely to continue

April 8, 2019
Drew Taylor
NWF Daily News

Despite signs that the budget for Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program will receive a funding increase in the millions of dollars, only so much of that will be able to shorten the waiting lists full of students in the city of Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County.

In addition to an enlarged budget for the Alabama State Department of Education — one of the biggest ones in over a decade — the Alabama Legislature will also consider a $28 million expansion of Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, opening up an additional 190 classrooms statewide and bringing the total program budget to more than $120 million.

Jeana Ross, secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Education Childhood Education, said that based on studies compiled by the National Institute of Early Education Research in 2012, the program would likely be able to reach nearly 70 percent of Alabama’s pre-K-age children if the program’s budget reached $140 million.

Right now, there are about 19,000 students in First Class programs across the state. Lawmakers believe the new budget increase would expand the program to be able to reach nearly 40 percent of eligible 4-year-olds.

“It has incrementally expanded over the years,” Ross said. “We have carefully and meticulously put in a system that would support this.”

The department is tasked with dividing up money among the nearly 140 school districts across Alabama and not every district receives the same amount. With Alabama First Class being ranked as being the top state pre-kindergarten program in the country for the 12th year in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research, competition for these grants can be fierce.