Governor Kay Ivey called for expanding Alabama's Pre-K program on Monday.

In a speech to the Montgomery Rotary Club on Monday, Ivey said she wanted to expand access to the state's First Class Pre-K program from its current 45% capacity of Alabama four-year-olds to 70%.

There are currently 1,500 classrooms across the state in the program, according to Ivey.

"Our journey to success in classrooms starts with the youngest of learners," Ivey said. "Alabama's First Class Pre-K program, which has led the nation for the last 16 years, is generating positive results for our earliest students. We must expand that so that all our students can benefit from it. Data shows that children who have participated in Alabama's First-Class Pre-K, which begins at age four, are more likely to be kindergarten-ready, more likely to be proficient in reading and math, less likely to be retained in a grade or chronically absent, and less likely to need special education and less likely to receive disciplinary reports."

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance (ASRA), a non-profit group that advocates for expanding "high-quality, voluntary Pre-K" in the state, said in a statement last week they support Ivey's "request that the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education develop a plan to reach full access to the voluntary First Class Pre-K program (estimated at 70 percent of four-year-olds) in Alabama's 19 highest poverty counties by the fall of 2024."

The group also wants the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to "create a plan and timeline for reaching 70 percent of four-year-olds statewide by 2026, including plans for addressing obstacles to reaching this goal (such as transportation, the need for quality providers and teachers, funding for facilities, and after school care)."

"As First Class Pre-K has expanded from serving six to 45 percent of Alabama's four-year-olds, it has continued to be recognized for effectively preparing our children for success. Alabama must continue to increase investments in First Class Pre-K so all Alabama four-year-olds have voluntary access," Bob Powers, chair of the ASRA Pre-K Task Force, said in a statement. "This investment must include funding to improve the quality and infrastructure of Alabama's private child care system. Alabama's private child care system is needed to provide most of the additional classrooms and teachers remaining in the expansion of First Class Pre-K. Early learning investments will produce immediate and long-term benefits for our children, business, and Alabama."

According to ASRA, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama's First Class Pre-K program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality.

Nationally, the results of pre-K funding have been mixed. A multi-year study released last year following nearly 3,000 students in Tennessee's pre-K during the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years were doing worse than their peers by the end of sixth grade in academic achievement, discipline issues and special education referrals. The trend emerged by the end of third grade and was even more pronounced three years later.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.