It's a big blow to parents with pre-kindergarten kids. Starting next school year, you'll be paying for Pre-K in Huntsville. The school board voted unanimously to start charging parents based on their income.
Every elementary school in Huntsville currently offers Pre-K for free, but some parents could start paying up to $300 a month.
Danielle Sinopoly, a Huntsville mom, said it will keep her from enrolling her kids.
"Realistically, for me, if I'm already paying for them to go to a private school where they have a smaller class ratio, then I would be more inclined to keep them there instead of paying for a larger class ratio," she said.
Sinopoly said the Pre-K vote has finalized her decision that she will put her daughter in a private school's Pre-K class for next school year.
Her answer was similar to many other moms' who didn't want to go on camera.
"It's more frustrating to go from something that was free to something that is not free," she said.
The district has been putting the message out to the public for about a month. The board finalized the decision Monday morning.
Right now, Huntsville is the only district in the state that doesn't make parents pay, but strapped for cash amid a multi-million dollar shortfall, it's ending the practice.
Sinopoly said her daughter will have about 10 kids in her class at the private school. According to Huntsville City Schools' website, there are up to 18 students in each class.
"I think it is a little steep to pay the same price for less interaction," she said.
The district said there are about 60 Pre-K classes in Huntsville. How much you pay depends on your family's size and income.
Parents can expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $300 a month. Some low-income families won't pay anything, something Sinopoly thinks is crucial to getting kids an early education.
"I think that will help the people that don't make as much that would have trouble affording it, because I know a lot of families have to work, she said.
WAAY 31 asked the school district where the money will go that's used to pay for the Pre-K program. We're told some of it will be used to pay for kids who qualify for free Pre-K. The rest will go towards other programs, but the district couldn't tell us what those programs are.
Jack Parker lives in Huntsville, and he said he's not happy hearing parents will have to start paying for their kids to go to the school district's Pre-K program.
"All the research I've seen is that Pre-K programs help kids a lot. They are really important to education, and it's one of the places you get the biggest bang for your buck, because the earlier you start them, the better they do," he said.
The district's decision falls in line with Madison County and Madison City schools.
Both districts charge between $40 and $300 a month for Pre-K. How much you pay is based of your income and family size. Some low-income families don't have to pay anything.
Huntsville City school board members voted unanimously for a similar model, but the exact numbers haven't been released.
"When you're trying to make ends meet, it's really really hard, and $40 to $300 can be a big bite out of a budget," Parker said.
Huntsville City Schools has nearly 1,000 Pre-K students. Madison County Schools has about 350 and Madison City Schools has 200. Despite Huntsville being the biggest, it's the only district that hasn't ever charged tuition. Madison County started charging its students this school year. Madison City Schools said it's always charged for Pre-K even though its program is nearly five times smaller than Huntsville's.
Huntsville City Schools said it's working to post a chart for how much families can expect to pay for Pre-K next year based on their income and family size. We will update this story as soon as it becomes available.