Deaf preschool program looks to expand despite project funding denied by legislature

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MADISON, Ala. – An Alabama non-profit for pediatric deafness resources and education looks to expand its preschools in north Alabama, despite its budget increase not going as far as it would have liked.

The Woolley Institute for Spoken Language Education (WISE) will open its Huntsville preschool location at Summit Crossings Church in June.

Its spokeswoman Caroline Leak said expanding to other cities and rural areas in Alabama is crucial to reach parents of deaf children who otherwise aren’t aware of available resources.

“WISE, our preschool, is free for parents because of (state) funding,” Leak told News 19.

That means a better head start for Beckett Bowen of Madison, whose parents Hillary and Will had no familiarity with deafness and needed the institute’s help.

“He’s the first deaf member of our family, and you dive into early intervention because that’s what you want to do for your child,” Hillary Bowen said. “And WISE swooped in, took us under their wing, they gave us connections, they gave us friendship, and most importantly, they gave Beckett the support he needed.”

But the Alabama State House’s Ways & Means Education Committee denied a near $1.2 million expansion in WISE’s budget Wednesday, which would have guaranteed funding for its Mobile Audiology Resources for Kids (MARKS) bus to deliver care and equipment to families across the state, especially rural areas.

Instead, its budget reportedly increases from $485,000 to $535,000 for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

“Parents drive their children three hours from Mobile, or an hour and a half from Huntsville, to our main location in Birmingham to get their kids these services,” Leak said. “And slowly but surely we’re trying to increase access to these services if the parents want them.”

“They need the funding to do things like this so all children in this area and areas beyond can develop their spoken language and experience what we’ve experienced with our child in it,” Bowen said. “It’s just a miracle.”

While the institute said News 19 it’s bummed not to be granted the budget increase for the MARKS bus, it will use the 50 thousand dollar uptick in funds to continue expanding resources to requested hard-of-hearing children across the state.

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