- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - More than 150 schools in Alabama received pre-kindergarten grants from the state.

Gov. Robert Bentley says the grants will provide more than 2,700 additional Alabama 4-year-olds with access to high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten. The grants will expand Alabama’s First Class voluntary pre-k program to more schools, faith-based preschools, child care centers, Head Start locations and other new and expanding pre-k sites across the state.

Bentley made the announcement Tuesday.

“Voluntary pre-kindergarten is a proven program that prepares students for success,” Bentley said. “Only 20 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program. Along with the support of legislative funding, we will continue to expand access to this program until every Alabama parent who wants their child to attend has access. I appreciate the staff at the Department of Early Childhood Education for working hard to help organizations receive grants.”

Beauregard Elementary received $130,000; Loachapoka Elementary was given $150,000 and Beulah Elementary got $150,000, the Opelika-Auburn (https://bit.ly/1rXoKLy) reported.

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

Each grantee is required to supplement the grant award with an amount equal to or greater than 25% of the award amount. A handful of remaining grants will be allocated to additional sites based on various needs.

The 155 grants will benefit 41 counties across Alabama and impact an additional 2,790 students. Bentley recommended a $20 million increase for the voluntary pre-k program. The Alabama Legislature approved a $16 million increase for Fiscal Year 2017.

First Class is managed by the Alabama Office of School Readiness. The office is part of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood, which is overseen by Bentley.

Last week, Bentley announced that Alabama is one of only two states in the country to meet all 10 quality benchmarks for the last 10 years as established by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Alabama’s quality focus is a national model for other states.

“Alabama First Class Pre-K is a high quality program of excellence that provides children the rich learning experiences that significantly impact school achievement and life success,” Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education Secretary Jeana Ross said.

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