Pre-k programs are a smart investment

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2015

“How can the state afford more grants when they say they are broke and need to raise taxes?”

That’s the question posted by a reader in response to a story published Wednesday at detailing the expansion of the Alabama’s First Class pre-kindergarten program. The program, which provides free preschool to 4-year-olds through state-funded programs at public schools, Head Start centers, religious schools and community centers throughout the state, received a $10 million budget increase for the 2016 fiscal year. That translates to the addition of more than 200 programs and the ability to serve more than 3,600 more students, including two new programs here in Pike County.

Now, thanks to Alabama’s First Class, preschool programs will be available at Goshen Elementary; Banks Elementary; Christian Love Center; and OCAP in Troy (2) and Brundidge (1).

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These are in addition to non-state funded preschool programs at Troy Elementary School, Pike Liberal Arts and Covenant Christian and a host of private and church-based programs too varied to list here.

All share a similar goal: to help prepare youngsters for kindergarten and the lifetime of learning that lies ahead. And let’s face it, we all know that students as young as 2, 3 and 4 years old are well on their way to learning – shapes, colors, sounds, letters, concepts, behaviors, how to interact with others, and more.

The point of these preschool programs is to give our youngsters every advantage possible as they transition into school years, and this program serves 13 percent of the state’s eligible preschool students. The cost of the program is $48.5 million. And while it may seem easy to question that cost in a year filled with Legislative poor-mouthing and talk of tax increases and lotteries, we believe it should be viewed as an important investment in our children’s future, much like funding public education or providing health care for our elderly or truly indigent.

Our elected officials can find – and should find – ways to cut costs from our state budget and, yes, raise revenues to invest in programs that can reap benefits for years to income. Investing in the education of our children is one of those programs and providing access to free, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs is one of the more progressive and proactive education policies we’ve enacted as a state.

Is it costly? Yes.

But it’s worth the investment.