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RCS awarded grant for Pre-K program

More children throughout Alabama will have access to high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten thanks to nearly 100 grants announced by Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday, including grants for two Franklin County programs.

The grants announced by Bentley will expand Alabama’s First Class voluntary pre-k program to more schools, preschools, childcare centers, Head Start locations, and other new and expanding pre-k sites across the state.

The Community Action Partnership of North Alabama’s Russellville division received a $45,000 excellence grant for the Head Start program in Russellville.

Russellville City Schools also received a $120,000 first class plus grant for their program at West Elementary School.

“The most important part of a child’s education is a good, solid foundation, and our First Class voluntary pre-k program provides that,” Bentley said.

“All children, regardless of where they live, deserve the opportunity to excel. A high-quality, voluntary pre-k program improves their chances of success in K-12 school. This is a wise investment that will benefit children and families throughout Alabama.”

Grants were awarded based on several criteria including local needs, local demand and high quality standards at the new and expanding pre-k sites.

“Demand for these grants far exceeded our supply, and that’s a testament to the need for expanding access to this program,” Bentley said.

“I want to give more families the option of enrolling their children in voluntary pre-k, and I will continue my efforts to expand access to First Class even more.”

Alabama’s First Class program is nationally-recognized for its quality. Alabama is currently one of only four states in the country to meet all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The benchmarks include teacher training, staff-child ratios, support services and more. First Class has now met all of these benchmarks for seven years in a row.

“This program was developed by early childhood education experts from Alabama for the children of Alabama,” Bentley said.

“We have Alabama-based guidelines and quality assurances, and by expanding access to this voluntary program, we can benefit more children here in Alabama.”

The only problem is that only six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program. The state also ranks a disappointing 33rd in access among the 40 states that offer pre-k programs.

In order to expand access, Governor Bentley proposed additional funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten in the fiscal year 2014 Education Trust Fund.

In May, the Alabama Legislature approved more than $9 million in additional voluntary pre-k funding.

First Class is managed by the Alabama Office of School Readiness. The office is part of the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs, which is overseen by Governor Bentley.

Jeana Ross, the Governor’s Commissioner of Children’s Affairs, said the demand for expansion grants has been strong in communities throughout the state, and efforts will continue for additional expansion in the future.

“This is the next step in a long-term process of giving more families the opportunity to send their children to voluntary pre-kindergarten,” Ross said.

“If parents want to send their children to pre-k, we want them to have that option. We want more children to benefit from the high quality standards that are the basis of First Class. We will work with First Class sites across the state to make sure more children are receiving a quality foundation that will prepare them for success in K-12 school and beyond.”

The grants announced Wednesday represent approximately $7.26 million of the additional funding approved for voluntary pre-k. The funding will be divided among 93 sites across the state. Local match funding of 25 percent will be required. Remaining state funding will be allocated to additional sites based on various needs in the near future.

“While these grants will help us offer voluntary pre-k to many more families, there is still a long way to go before all children have access,” Bentley said.

“That’s why it’s important to build on this progress and make sure we’re offering this high-quality program to even more families in the years to come.”