Russellville preschool receives 85K grant – but there’s a catch
by Kadin Pounders for the FCT
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced recently that more than 200 new grants reaching more than 3,600 children will be awarded to Pre-K programs throughout the state.
“All children, regardless of where they live, deserve the opportunity to excel. A high-quality, voluntary Pre-K program improves their chances of success in school long-term,” Bentley said. “This is a wise investment that will benefit children and families throughout Alabama.”
One of the over 200 recipients of the new grants is Little Tigers Preschool in Russellville. Rhonda Miller, director and owner of Little Tigers, opened the doors in 1996.
“We’re just trying to provide quality child care and educational experiences for kids regardless of their age,” said Miller. “We believe every child has a right to a positive child care experience.
Grants were awarded to Pre-K programs based on local needs, local demand and assurance of high-quality standards.
Little Tigers, which enrolled 39 children for the 2013-2014 school year, will receive a grant worth 85,500 dollars. While that sum of money might seem fairly large, most people do not understand how much money it takes to run a preschool, said Miller.
“The huge percentage of (the grant money) goes for hiring the bachelor degree teacher and her assistant,” she said. “About 60,000 dollars goes just to payroll and payroll taxes for them.”
The rest of the money will go toward supplies and equipment, some of which is mandatory in the grant and required by the state.
“A couple of the mandates I’ve been going through is they have to have iPads for the classroom, which we don’t have. Being a private center, we don’t have extra funds for microscopes and telescopes and iPads and things like that,” Miller said. “You wouldn’t understand how expensive some of this stuff is until you get into it.”
Other mandates of the grant require a laundry list of specific materials for each area of the classroom such as the art area and dramatic play area. This includes changing the theme for the entire classroom each month.
“Every month it has to be something different,” said Miller. “If we’re doing outer space, then everything is space related. Your block area is going to be space, and your art area is going to have space stuff in it.”
If the supply and equipment mandates were not enough, there is another catch to receiving the grant money.
“They don’t give you the money until the end of October, and they only give you a third of it, so we have to (buy supplies) out of pocket. I’ve been told by some to just take out a personal loan and pay a lump sum once the money comes in,” said Miller. “Everything has to come out of pocket first.”
While the requirements and mandates can be stressful and rigorous to uphold, the goal of the newly issued grants is to get more children involved in First Class, Alabama’s voluntary Pre-K program.
“The demand for these grants has far exceeded our supply,” said Bentley. “Only 13 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in the First Class program, and that is the reason we need to continue expanding access to this program.”
When toddlers are enrolled in Pre-K programs, the success of the students later in life is evident, and Miller has seen it first hand.
“I can go through each of my class pictures of (children) that have left here, and over half of them make the A or B honor roll, or the all-A honor roll, or the President’s List,” she said. “They are exceptionally smart children because they were exposed when they were toddlers.”
The state of Alabama is one of the very few states that have a proven track record when it comes to effective Pre-K programs. Alabama is one of four states to meet all 10 quality benchmarks established by the National Institute for Early Education Research.
“Research consistently shows that high-quality early childhood education programs produce positive and lasting effects for children; this is achieved by ensuring all programs meet the highest standards of excellence,” said Bentley. “The grant awards are an exciting expansion of this number-one, nationally-ranked, high quality Pre-K program that can help make the first years the best years for a child to grow and learn in Alabama.”