Pre-K gets high marks; more access needed

Published 11:33 pm Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On the heels of a report that gave mixed reviews to Alabama’s pre-K efforts came good news for Andalusia.

The National Institute for Early Education Research last week cited Alabama as one of only four states whose pre-kindergarten programs meet all its quality standards.

Those standards include teachers having a bachelor’s degree, specialized training in early childhood education and at least 15 hours’ in-service training; assistants having credentials under the Child Development Associate national credentialing program; proper class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios; states having comprehensive early learning standards; programs providing at least one meal per day and vision, hearing and health screenings and referrals; and programs providing other support services or referrals such as parent education and conferences.

Alabama now has met those standards for eight consecutive years. Former Gov. Bob Riley strongly advocated expansion of the state’s voluntary Pre-K program, and current Gov. Robert Bentley has maintained that commitment.

Unfortunately, the program has been a limited success.

The NIEER report pointed out that just 6 percent of 4-year-olds in Alabama attended Pre-K classes in 2012-13, the year whose data was ranked. The program will never be fully effective unless there’s full access to it, and progress is being made there, too.

Bentley last week announced 101 grants to fund additional Pre-K sites in 40 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Among the new sites is Andalusia, Ala., where at least 18 students will have access to Pre-K classes at AES next fall.

The expansion gives Alabama 410 Pre-K sites that, according to estimates by the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, will serve 7,370 children — an 89 percent increase from 2012-13.

While some degrade the program as government-funded day care, the bottom line is K-4 is a head start on education. Alabama must move quickly to expand that access to all students.