Opp gets funding for new Pre-K program

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Opp City School System is growing by LEAPS and bounds after a new pre-k program was announced Wednesday.

The program, called “Learning Everyday at Pre-School” or LEAPS, was among the 93 in the state sharing in $7.3 million of grant funds.

Emily Edgar, OCS assistant superintendent, said the $120,000 grant means the system can offer pre-school for 4-year-olds. It will employ one teacher and one teacher’s aide.

“This will be a preschool serving children who are 4 years old on or before Sept. 1, 2013,” Edgar said. “It will be housed at the elementary school. We will select 18 students, based on academic need, and that criteria will be put together in the coming weeks.”

It will be a five-day-a-week program, operating on a six-and-a-half hour day, Edgar said.

Class hours will be coordinated around bus routes and traffic issues, and it “will basically follow the same regular school schedule,” Edgar said. Once the 18-slots are filled, potential students will be placed on a waiting list, she said.

“We wish we could provide it to every four-year-old in the city, but we can’t,” Edgar said. “With (this program and the local Head Start program) we hope to see big things happen in student achievement.”

And while Alabama’s pre-K programs are nationally recognized – the state is one of four to meet all 10 the National Institute for Early Education Research’s quality benchmarks – it also ranks 33rd in access among the 40 states that offer pre-k programs.

Gov. Robert Bentley spoke Wednesday at Leeds Elementary School to announce the grants that will expand that access.

“Year after year for the last few years, it’s been recognized all over the country,” Bentley said of the pre-K program. “We just don’t have enough children enrolled in it.”

Only 6 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program, according to the governor’s office.

The grants will expand Alabama’s First Class voluntary pre-k program to more schools, preschools, child care centers, Head Start locations, and other new and expanding pre-k sites across the state. Grants were awarded based on several criteria including local needs, local demand and high quality standards at the new and expanding pre-k sites.

The state could only fund half of the requests for grants, Ross said. Additional grants, she said, will be awarded in the future to continue to expand that access.