Governor Robert Bentley is out pushing his plan to expand the pre-kindergarten program in Alabama.
Bentley wants to add $12.5 million to expand the program to include another 2,200 students. This would expand pre-K to cover 11 percent of four-year-olds in Alabama.
"Alabama's voluntary pre-kindergarten program has consistently been ranked number-one in the nation for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research. However, only six percent of four-year-olds in Alabama are enrolled," the governor's office stated in a release.
Tuesday, Gov. Bentley and First Lady Diane Bentley visited Clanton Elementary School, which has three pre-k classes for 54 students. The school has operated a pre-K class for six years.
"It would make a difference when they go to kindergarten. It makes a difference when they go elementary school. Statistics show these students tend to graduate from high school," Bentley said.
The principal of Clanton Elementary said more than 150 students have successfully gone through the program.
"It gives them a head start. It put them on an even playing field because many of these children would not be able to attend pre-K unless they were in this program," Rebecca Threlkeld said.
Students in Clanton have to win a lottery to take part in the voluntary program because there are so few spots.
Chilton County School Superintendent Dave Hayden backed the program but Hayden wanted to remind the governor that his schools and others across Alabama are facing tough economic times.
"Please keep in mind our K-through-12 are obligated too. I hate to be the bad guy. Here again we got a problem financially we need to face," Hayden said.
Bentley assured Hayden he realized the problems facing local educators.
"We understand there are needs out there, not just this. The entire system needs funding," Bentley said.
Governor Bentley believes the legislature will pass the money to expand the program.
A fully funded program will cost $144 million. Ways and Means Chairman Jay Love of Montgomery says he wants to see the program funded but he wants to do it over ten years because of funding needs and the lack of qualified teachers needed for the program.
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