Parents face long wait for Pre-K openings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2007

Even before a national report cited Alabama's pre-kindergarten program as the best in the country, Butler County's own Bright Beginnings was already popular with parents.

&#8220We have to turn kids away every year,” said Amy Bryan, Director of the Butler County Education and Community Learning Center. &#8220It's first come, first served and we already have some children registered to start in 2010.”

Alabama's state-funded pre-kindergarten programs earned a perfect 10 rating from the National Institute for Early Education Research, tying North Carolina for tops in the nation out of the 38 states which offer such a program.

The only problem, the report stated, was that limited funding and lack of qualified teachers means programs like Bright Beginnings reach only two percent of the four-year-olds it's meant to serve.

&#8220We would love to serve all interested families,” said Superintendent Mike Looney. Currently, four instructors, along with teacher's aides, serve 72 children countywide. &#8220However, the long term viability of the program is contingent on our ability to continue acquiring grants, judicious use of the limited funds available and our ability to maintain high caliber employees.”

Looney said the grants are competitive with the school system having to fight it out on an annual basis with 58 other pre-kindergarten sites in the state. Bryan said Bright Beginnings receives $65,000 per year from the state's Office of School Readiness along with some additional funding from outside sources.

&#8220Because so much of our funding comes from grants we are challenged to maintain a flexible operation to expand and flow as funding ebbs and flows,” said Looney.

Both Looney and Bryan said Bright Beginnings has served as a model for other schools since the program was started three years ago. Bryan said hundreds of administrators and teachers have visited Butler County to learn what's necessary to implement a pre-kindergarten program in their own school system.

&#8220It (pre-kindergarten) is a no brainer - it works,” said Looney. &#8220We have tracked student achievement for those students having the opportunity to attend pre-kindergarten and find that they exceed the performance of students that have not attended. I remain a vigilant supporter of Pre-K and am committed to helping our state's leaders make this a priority.”