Governor tours Clanton Elementary pre-K classes

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013

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Gov. Robert Bentley looks at the work of pre-kindergarten students at Clanton Elementary School as he toured voluntary pre-K program classes Tuesday morning.

Gov. Robert Bentley and his wife Dianne were able to see first-hand the impact of voluntary pre-kindergarten programs as they visited with students in Clanton Elementary School’s pre-K program Tuesday morning.

The Bentleys toured three pre-K classes at CES offered through the Office of School Readiness (OSR) for 4-year-old students, along with a PALS preschool class for 3- and 4-year-old students.

OSR currently offers 217 First Class voluntary pre-K classes throughout the state.

Clanton Elementary’s K4 program – the only voluntary pre-K program in Chilton County – has been in place for six years.

CES implemented the program after applying for and receiving funding. It consists of three classes, with three full-time teachers who each have an assistant teacher in their classrooms.

The program’s first pre-K students are now in fourth grade at Clanton Intermediate.

“This is amazing that they’re beginning to learn that early,” Bentley said. “I know it will pay dividends down the road.”

CES Principal Rebecca Threlkeld said her pre-kindergarten students’ standardized test scores indicate they are meeting or exceeding state education requirements in areas like reading and math.

Bentley added that the statistics show a higher number of students graduating from high school and lower incarceration rates.

Although Alabama’s voluntary pre-K program has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research, Bentley said only 6 percent of 4-year-olds (about 4,000 students) in the state are enrolled.

Fifty-four students are enrolled in the CES pre-K program this year.

Bentley is proposing a $12.5 million funding increase in the Fiscal Year 2014 Education Trust Fund to provide more families the option of enrolling their children in the pre-K program.

This could expand the program to include 2,200 additional students statewide.

House Education Chairman Rep. Jay Love said the funding increase will bump the current 6-percent enrollment up to 11 percent eligible to enroll.

Love said the program would need $144 million to be fully funded, which is not attainable with the current budget.

In addition, schools would need more teachers if the program were functioning on $144 million funding.

For these reasons, Love and Bentley said the program is being expanded in increments to ensure schools are not overwhelmed.

“The reality of it is we don’t have enough elementary teachers, so we’re doing it in a very smart, careful way,” Love said.

Department of Children’s Affairs Director Jeana Ross, state Rep. Kurt Wallace and Alabama School Readiness Alliance board member Elizabeth “Liz” Huntley were also present for Bentley’s visit.

“It doesn’t compete with K through 12,” Huntley said of the pre-K program. “It complements K through 12. It makes it better.”

Pre-K curriculum includes the fundamentals of reading, basic math skills, social studies and science units relating to the environment.

Bentley described the funding for the program as “flexible” since it is dispersed among public schools, private child care centers, churches, universities and other community-based organizations.

“It’s really amazing to see a 4-year-old already writing their name,” Bentley said. “It makes a difference when they go to kindergarten.”