As the mom to 4 year old twins, I’ve been pondering Pre-K for a few years now. I knew our daycare offered it, but I’d also heard rumblings about a “lottery”, something else about “peer models”, and warnings that we should be on the lookout for the magnet applications if we were interested in those schools because those ran on a different schedule.
With our boys set to be the magic “4 years old on or before September 1st, I started hitting up websites looking for some additional information. I was searching for the basic stuff — when would applications open, when were they due — and quickly realized nothing was simple. After much digging, and a few phone calls, I finally mapped out the Pre-K options for Madison County. And, because like any good engineer, I think better with a good spreadsheet, and put together some easy printables for you with all the info you need to start investigating your options by district.
But before we get to those….first let’s do a quick overview of what is out there.
Pre-K Options in Madison County
Basically, if you live in Madison County, you have three options for Pre-K. You can go through your local school district (to the school you are zoned for), through a private daycare, or through Head Start. Sounds simple enough, right? Except this is where it gets confusing.
Each of the various physical locations can have multiple different “Pre-K” programs.
1. First Class Pre-K
The most common program is First Class (you may have heard this called OSR, because it is overseen by the Office of School Readiness). This is a program which is primarily paid for by federal and state grants and adheres to state-specific standards. It’s an acclaimed program, ranked first in the nation by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) for 13 consecutive years.
Because this is a state program, the requirements for these classrooms remain the same, regardless of which location the child is enrolled at. This means a First Class classroom at your local public school or your preferred private daycare are of the same quality, use the same curriculum, have teachers with the same qualifications, etc. Parents used to paying for full time daycare will appreciate the pricing—tuition is based on a sliding scale determined by income, between $40-$300/month for each child. Admission is done on a lottery basis, and the main application is done online. More on that in a minute.
2. Peer Modeling Pre-K Classes
In addition to their First Class programs, each school district also offers some sort of “peer modeling” classroom made up of 3 and 4 year old children with IEPs and some of their typically developing 4 year old peers. In Huntsville City Schools these are “Blended Classrooms” (formerly KidSkills), in Madison City Schools, “Early Beginnings Preschool”, and in Madison County, “Developmental Pre-K”. The applications for these programs generally follow the same timeline as First Class, although it can be a different process. Typically the programs are free for students with IEPs.
3. Other Pre-K Options
Finally, there are freestanding Pre-K classrooms, which are developed by each school or district. Madison County offers “4K Preschool”, private daycares often have a “4 year old room” or “Pre-K” class, and Head Start offers “Head Start Preschool” (which enrolls kids 3-5), and is located in classrooms at various local elementary schools. These are not held to a single curriculum standard. Application windows typically run longer than the First Class schedule and schools must be contacted directly for information.
Outside of the school setting, there is another option for families in Madison City — the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters or HIPPY program which is a home based parental involvement program for kids 3-5.
The First Class Lottery System
Okay, whew. Still with me? Good. There is one more confusing part. This whole lottery thing. What is it? When is it? How does it work? What are your odds? All good questions!
The lottery system is how students are selected for enrollment in First Class programs. Because the First Class program is still growing (124 classrooms were added for the 2019-2020 school year!), they cannot yet accommodate ALL the Pre-K aged children. To make things as fair as possible, they allow everyone to apply and they do a lottery drawing to determine who is admitted.
Please note, some school systems require an additional, separate application in addition to the First Class application. That does not play into the lottery, but IS a necessary part of applying.
While the process is standardized, not all of the dates are. The basic process goes like this:
- January 15th – Online applications open. Parents may select more than one school site, but are responsible for only applying to sites within school districts if they are zoned for that school.
- March – Directors of each school do a random drawing for the seats at their school (18 per classroom) and to determine the wait list. Dates are selected by each director.
- Mid April – Parents are emailed and notified of their pending or waitlisted status
- Late April onward – as parents accept or decline, spots which have been declined are offered to the students on the waitlist.
Because the drawing is done on a school by school basis, and because parents might apply to multiple schools, and because families can only apply to schools they are zoned for… there are no overall statistics on what your odds are of getting accepted through the lottery process. Instead, your best bet is to talk to the directors at each location you are interested in, to see what the odds have historically been for their location.
That said, there are a few students who do not have to go through the lottery process. In accordance with the First Class program guidelines, a small number of seats may be reserved for non-lottery selection. This was originally intended to allow private daycares to guarantee spots to families they had been serving basically since birth.
It also has another upside – schools in the program are required to provide 25% of the funding for the program. However, since the fee structure is set by First Class, they may not take in 25% of the program costs via tuition. Having some non-lottery seats can allow programs to set a higher tuition rate for the guaranteed admission and thus help fund the difference. In practice, the school systems seem to use these reserved seats to allow needs-based placement, or the guaranteed admission granted by the LENA program in Huntsville City Schools.
One final note on the lottery system – a shoutout to my fellow parents of multiples – First Class has an official policy on how the lottery works for multiples:
If a program has multiple birth siblings (twins, triplets, etc.) all names should be placed in the drawing separately. If one but not all multiple birth siblings are drawn before the classroom cap at 18, the drawing should cease at this point and the 1 or 2 multiple birth siblings should be added to the classroom roster to reach full classroom enrollment. Whew!
Huntsville Magnet School Pre-K
That should about cover you! Unless you are interested in the Huntsville City Magnet Schools, Academy for Academics & Arts (AAA) and Academy for Science & Foreign Language (ASFL). Those run entirely on their own schedule. So much so that despite regular magnet enrollment starting in January, the Pre-K process takes place in the Fall, one full year before you expect your child to be enrolled.
Printable Resources for Parents
If you want to do your own research about the preschool options that best fit your family, I’ve put together printable information that will help you along the way!
Select the correct file based on what district you are zoned for:
- Pre-K in Madison County Overview
- Huntsville City Schools
- Madison City Schools
- Madison County Schools
- Private Pre-K Classes
Handy Links At-a-Glance
First Class Online Application
First Class Lottery Process Timeline from 2019
First Class Sliding Tuition Scale
First Class Lottery Dates (Madison County School System)
Huntsville City Schools Pre-K Online Application (required as part of the First Class application)
Madison County Schools Regular Pre-K Registration (for 4K preschool classrooms)
Amanda is a mother to twins and has been in Huntsville long enough to remember before Bridge Street was built. A quilter, engineer, and avid podcast listener, she maintains that the best hours are the quiet ones from 10pm-12am spent with fabric, thread, and a bit of dark chocolate. She spends far too much time on Instagram (@mrsdragon) and making a list for every occasion.