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Reprinted with permission from The Daily Sentinel, all rights reserved.

IMPACT receives grant to expand pre-k program

Thursday, May 28, 2015

By Wes Mayberry

Gov. Robert Bentley announced a list of 202 new First Class Pre-K grants Tuesday as a result of the increased state funding for pre-k approved by the legislature and the competitive Preschool Development Grant he received in December. And one of these 202 new grants was awarded to the IMPACT Learning Center, which will allow its Pre-K Partners program to expand to a third elementary school in Scottsboro.

IMPACT’s Pre-K Partners program currently has classrooms at Nelson and Brownwood elementary schools that serve up to a total of 36 kids each school year. According to IMPACT Education Coordinator Kim Fossett, the program served approximately three percent of all 4-year-olds in Jackson County last year. But thanks to the new grant funding, a classroom will be added for the 2015-16 school year at Caldwell Elementary that can accommodate up to 18 additional children and will create two jobs in the form of the teachers for the classroom. Because of this, Fossett said everyone at IMPACT was delighted to hear that they had been awarded this grant funding.

“IMPACT was the only organization in Jackson County that received a grant, and we were very pleased,” Fossett said. “We are thrilled to be able to have a third Pre-K Partners classroom for children in this area.”

The Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs awarded these grants based on several criteria, including local needs, local demand and assurances of high quality standards at the new and expanding pre-k sites, and local match funding of 25 percent will be required. Fossett said some of the money from IMPACT’s recent Low Country Luau fundraiser would go toward providing these matching funds, adding that this expansion will be extremely beneficial.

“I sent a letter to Gov. Bentley and Sen. (Steve) Livingston thanking them for supporting the pre-k program,” she said. “It’s such a good program because it’s so important to provide children with a solid educational foundation.”

The three Pre-K Partners classrooms join pre-k programs at Stevenson Elementary and Woodville High School in serving 4-year-olds in Jackson County.
According to a press release, the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs received a record 410 applications for new First Class Pre-K classrooms for the 2015-16 school year, and the new grant funding works to accommodate this increased demand.

“Demand for these grants has far exceeded our supply,” Bentley said. “Only 13 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program, and that is the reason we need to continue expanding access to this program. It is my goal 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.”

The recently approved Fiscal Year 2016 Education Trust Fund budget appropriates $48.5 million for Alabama’s high-quality and voluntary First Class Pre-K program, which includes a $10 million increase to expand the pre-k program to reach 3,600 additional 4-year-olds across the state. In addition, Alabama was one of 18 states to be awarded a Preschool Development Grant, which can be renewed for up to four years, from the U.S. Department of Education.

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 nine years in a row.

First Class is managed by the Alabama Office of School Readiness, which is part of the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs that is overseen by Bentley. Jeana Ross, commissioner of the Alabama Department 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.

“Alabama’s vision for First Class Pre-K is to provide the very best early childhood education program for all children and families,” Ross said. “Research consistently shows that high-quality early childhood education programs produce positive and lasting effects for children. This is achieved by ensuring all programs meet the highest standards of excellence. The grant awards are an exciting expansion of this No. 1, nationally ranked, high quality pre-k program that can help make the first years the best years for a child to grow and learn in Alabama.”

“The most important part of a child’s education is a good, solid foundation at a young age, and our First Class voluntary pre-k program provides that. 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 school long-term. This is a wise investment that will benefit children and families throughout Alabama,” Bentley added. “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. 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.”