Educators and business leaders weigh in on Alabama's Pre-K program

America's pre-kindergarten programs are in a "state of emergency." A just-released study shows state funding for these pre-k programs had its largest drop ever in 2012. And many of the programs that do exist aren't even good enough to qualify for federal dollars.

Here is one place where Alabama shines. The state's First Class Voluntary pre-k program gets a number one quality ranking. The problem is not enough money to expand the program to all who need it.{}

Just six percent, that's four-thousand four year olds, are enrolled in Alabama's First Class pre-k program. There are 60-thousand eligible. The 2014 Alabama education budget may include a $12.5 million increase for the program.

Even that would just open spots for two thousand more four year olds to participate next fall. Alabama businesses are behind the push for pre-k. They say it's vital to the state's future workforce and economic development.

The business community is keeping an eye on education issues because they says what happens in the classroom has a residual impact on the local economy.

"It allows students to be pipelined, not only through our school system here in Birmingham, but we can pipeline talent for many of our member companies here in the Birmingham business alliance," said Marcus Lundy, with the Birmingham Business Alliance.

Lundy says the BBA supports Governor Robert Bentley's efforts.

"There are some issues facing business. When you look at the pending retirement in ten to fifteen years from the workforce, we've got to get those children in pre-k today prepared for those jobs of the future," he said.

Allison De La Torre, with the Alabama School Readiness Alliance says the $12.5-million is only the beginning of what the alliance plans to push for over the next several years.

"The national institution for early education research came down to Alabama and helped us cost out what it would cost to deliver pre-k to all four years olds and that would be just 125-million total," she said.