Alabama's Pre-K program is ranked one of the highest in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. This year, more Pre-K classes are open than ever before, and more than 1,800 additional children are enrolled, thanks to the expansion of the state's "First Class" grant program.
When Reeltown Elementary School opened its doors for the school year for the first time, it welcomed 18 four-year-olds. They're the first students in the first Pre-K program in the Tallapoosa County School System.
System officials say it would have been impossible to begin the program without the grant money. This year, the state announced more than 100 additional grants to school systems around the state, based on high quality standards and need.
Reeltown School Principal Tom Cochran says when parents found out about the class, the 18 available spots quickly filled up.
Travis Spraggins says he enrolled his daughter so she can get a head start on Kindergarten.
"They're used to playing all day, because that's what they do prior to school, but Pre-K gives them an opportunity to learn how to be in that environment, to sit down in class and participate with other kids as well," he said.
Jessica Wallace also enrolled her son.
"You know, you're getting into that window of learning, where it's been proven that the earlier that you start, the better off they're going to be, and so we're just trying to get a head start here," Wallace said.
Cochran says preparations have been underway for months. The school hired two new teachers with early childhood education backgrounds to teach the program. He says getting kids started on learning classroom basics earlier can make a big difference.
"In a rural setting, we get some students who get come in who are well-prepared and some on the other end of the spectrum. With this Pre-K grant, we guarantee that 20 to 25 percent of our students will come in K-ready," Cochran said.
According to the governor's office, nine percent of Alabama four-year-olds are enrolled in the "First Class" program.