Alabama bill could mandate ‘first grade readiness’

Legislator files to require kindergarten or ‘readiness’ assessment

By: - March 7, 2023 7:01 am
Rows of desks in a classroom, each with a purple textbook on top. A whiteboard and projector are visible in the background.

A bill would authorize the use of cameras in special education classrooms. (Getty)

A state representative has filed a bill that would require all students in Alabama to attend kindergarten or show any ability to do kindergarten-level work before moving onto first grade. 

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, states that a child can enter first grade “as long as the child has successfully completed kindergarten or otherwise demonstrates first grade entry readiness.” 

Warren said that the goal for the bill is that every child will be prepared for first grade because not every student in Alabama attends pre-K.

“So if you don’t go to pre-K, you don’t go to kindergarten, you have kids that will show up that don’t know A, B, 1, 2, 3, and it’s unfair to that student,” she said. “It’s unfair to the other students who are advanced in that class, and it’s unfair to the teacher.” 

Warren said that students can also show readiness through an assessment. 

Warren has introduced a version of the legislation since at least 2019. The Alabama House of Representatives approved the bill in 2021, but it failed to come to a vote in the Alabama Senate. 

Early education

Passing the bill would put Alabama in the minority of states that require kindergarten. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 states and the District of Columbia require kindergarten, as of 2020

Currently, Alabama school districts are required to provide a full-day kindergarten program, which leads to stronger academic gains down the road, according to a report from the Education Commission of the States.

Opponents to mandatory kindergarten, such as the Pacific Research Institute, a conservative think tank, believe that a one-size fits-all approach to education does not benefit students

In 2022, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a mandatory kindergarten bill due to cost and fears over declining state revenues after the COVID-19 pandemic. California does not already mandate districts to provide full-day kindergarten like Alabama does, according to the NCES.

Alabama lawmakers have been placing more emphasis on early childhood education over the last decade. The state has expanded funding for the state’s pre-kindergarten program for over a decade. It now serves 42% of four-year-olds in the state. The Legislature increased the program’s budget by $22.5 million last year, a nearly 15% increase.

It is not clear what percentage of five-year-olds in the state do not attend kindergarten. In the 2021-2022 school year, around 57,100 students attended kindergarten, according to Trish Crain at’s Education Lab. The Alabama State Department of Education did not immediately return a request seeking comment. 

The Alabama State Board of Education is scheduled to vote Thursday on an administrative code that will require school boards to ensure that entering first-graders show “first grade readiness.

Under this code, students must show readiness through completing kindergarten or showing readiness through assessment. In addition, there must be intervention for students who cannot demonstrate readiness but must be in first grade. School boards must also provide and advertise educational programs to help prepare students.

Over the past couple of years, Alabama has tried to increase its educational standing through multiple pieces of legislation. The Alabama Literacy Act requires all third-graders to be reading on grade level. The Alabama Numeracy Act aims to bolster the math scores of the state.

The most recent results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)– the “nation’s report card”– revealed that Alabama’s scores did not drop as much as other states during the pandemic. Despite that, Alabama’s scores remained relatively stagnant and still below the national average.

The legislative session begins Tuesday.


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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.