Shelby County meets high standards, low enrollment for state-funded preschool

Published 5:55 pm Saturday, May 14, 2011

By KATIE HURST/ Lifestyles Editor

The Alabama preschool program is one of only five states to receive a perfect 10 on benchmarks for quality standards in a recent survey of state-funded preschool programs.

“The State of Preschool 2010,” an annual report from the National Institute for Early Education (NIEER), showed Alabama, along with Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina and Rhode Island, met or exceeded all 10 benchmarks.

The benchmarks of quality standards included early learning standards, teacher degree, teacher specialized training, assistant teacher degree, teacher-in service, maximum class size, staff-child ratio, health screenings and referrals, meals and monitoring.

Shelby County Schools currently has one state-funded preschool program at Vincent Elementary, said Leah Ann Lowe, federal programs supervisor.

Lowe said the rigorous standards are required to receive the state grant every three years and help provide a quality program in Shelby County.

Though the survey found the state’s standards to be high, Alabama ranked low in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

Out of 40 states funding preschool programs, Alabama ranked 33rd in 4-year-old enrollment. In 2010, the state enrolled only 6.2 percent of the population, said Jen Fitzgerald, public information officer for the NIEER.

Nationwide, 26.7 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded preschool programs, she said.

In Shelby County, 18 children are enrolled in the preschool program at Vincent, Lowe said. In the future, the school district would like to offer more preschool programs, but it depends on state funding, she said.

“The State of Preschool 2010” report also attributed low enrollment to a lack of state funding.

W. Steven Barnett, author of the report and co-director of the NIEER, said the lack of funding is likely due to the recession.

“Overall, state cuts to preschool funding transformed the recession into a depression for many young children,” Barnett said in a press release. “In the 2009-2010 school year, the effects of the recession became fully apparent despite federal government aid to the states for education.”