Lauderdale County looks to expand Pre-K program, awaiting lawmakers

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LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. – Lawmakers in Montgomery are preparing to vote this week on a $25 million expansion of the state’s “First Class Pre-K Classroom” program.

To an outsider it may seem like chaos. But for the 4-year-olds and their teachers at Underwood Elementary School in Lauderdale County, it is part of the process. For many of the kids, they had no interest in learning before pre-K.

“Now when he comes home he shows me his books, he can point out words, he can write his name, he can count really good, and his speech has gotten better,” explained parent Carrie Comer.

And those successes have driven Alabama’s pre-K program to the top of the list. Underwood Elementary added a second pre-K classroom this year with the latest state funding expansion.

Statewide, more than 30 percent of all 4-year-olds are involved in a pre-K program. In Lauderdale County, that number grows to over 50 percent and takes quite a bit of money out of local education budgets. Superintendent Jon Hatton says for each pre-K classroom, the school system spends $16,000 in local money. Hatton says it’s an investment which is well worth it as demand increases.

“It was frustrating being on the waiting list,” said Comer. “But, anyone who is on the waiting list there is always still hope you can come off of it.”

The Lauderdale County Board of Education is asking for grants to help fund six additional pre-K classrooms for the upcoming year. Hopefully that can cut down on waiting lists even more if they get them.

If Governor Ivey’s proposed funding increase for the 2020 fiscal year passes, 240 pre-K classroom’s can be added across the state.

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