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JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Alabama’s Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation Education approved a $13.5 million increase to the state-funded, voluntary First Class Pre-Kindergarten program, Wednesday.

The move will help to make pre-K programs more available to students throughout the state. The program has been ranked number one in the country for the last eight years, but only 13 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds have access to it.

Lauren Lackey has served as Woodville’s pre-K teacher for all seven years of the program’s existence. When it started, it was the only program available in Jackson County.

“We started so small, we didn’t even have tables the first day of school,” she said.

Now her class is one of four available throughout the county, yet only 12 percent of Jackson County’s four-year-olds are able to take advantage of the free, and arguably vital, education.

“Now when they go to Kindergarten, it is fast-paced,” said Lackey. “It’s a lot different, so we’re trying to get them those basic skills. And again, we have so many children that are not getting these benefits.”

According to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force, students who attend pre-K have higher attendance rates, need fewer special education services and are less likely to fail a grade than those that did not attend.

The task force aims to have the programs fully funded with $144 million by the 2022-23 school year, so all students can take advantage of pre-K.

Lackey has 18 students in her class this school year. She said 27 registered.

“It is heartbreaking, turning away those babies because you know there’s a need there.”

The increase from $38.5 million of funding to $51.7 million for the 2015-16 school year will open 145 new classrooms and enroll 2,600 more four-year-olds throughout the state.

Lackey said she is grateful that her community is able to provide opportunities to some, but she wants it to ultimately benefit all.

“I would like to see more classrooms in our county, not just Woodville, but throughout Jackson County Schools because I think that’s the starting point.”

The funding increase is expected to go before the state senate sometime next week.