In the midst of these hard times, it has become even more evident that quality childcare is crucial to the vitality and well-being of our region. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted quality childcare as an absolute necessity for essential workers in order to maintain their employment; and the racial tensions that have surfaced across the state and nation have exposed the inequities in access to childcare among all communities.
To improve availability of childcare across Central Alabama, the Bold Goals Coalition continues to work toward universal access to Alabama’s First Class Pre-K in our region through the Early Learning Action Network (ELAN) initiative.
In 2018, ELAN received a United Way Vision Council grant to enhance and expand this initiative to help childcare centers develop competitive applications for First Class Pre-K funding from the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education. Since then, ELAN provided guidance for the 2019 grant-selection process in Central Alabama and took steps to implement a new structure for the delivery of the project, including:
- Hiring a Project Coordinator.
- Engaging and training college students as Student Fellows to work with assigned childcare programs.
- Expanding ELAN membership to include representatives of Walker County and the City of Birmingham.
- Hosting our largest project kickoff in four years with more than 60 interested childcare providers representing all five counties in the Bold Goals service area, plus a few other areas of the state that took an interest in the model.
- Creating and presenting a project overview and results at the first-ever Bold Goals Community Lab.
- Hosting grant-writing workshops to support participating childcare programs in the application process.
- Finalizing a partnership with UAB School of Public Health to conduct evaluation of the project.
- Presenting at Walker County’s School Readiness Coalition kickoff.
Last month, the Alabama Legislature approved a $6.95-million increase for the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, including $6 million for First Class Pre-K! This has resulted in the addition of 55 new classrooms across the state, including 17 new classrooms in the five Central Alabama counties.
This is great news amid a season of turmoil, and ELAN will continue to work to increase the number of childcare programs applying for First Class Pre-K grants in order to further expand access to quality, early learning for our children — while we all adjust to the new normal and whatever the future may bring.
The Bold Goals Coalition is 200 organizations solving big community problems by aligning partners, resources and agendas.