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Growing pre-K enrollment, lasting impacts
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Last week, we discussed the history and basic foundation of Georgia’s 20-year-old pre-kindergarten program. This week, we examine the impacts and achievements of Georgia’s pre-K program. We will then look into the content standards utilized in the classroom and possible improvements to the pre-K program.

But first, let’s delve into pre-K enrollment trends.

Across the nation, there has been a substantial increase in the number of 4-year-olds enrolling in state-funded Pre-K programs. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, about 14 percent of the nation’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded pre-K program during the 2001-02 school year. This percentage doubled over the next 10 years to roughly 28 percent. The reason for this national increase includes states expanding enrollment in current programs and, to a lesser extent, creating new programs. Over the 2002-12 decade, the U.S. went from 42 programs in 37 states to 52 programs in 40 states with two programs in Washington, D.C.

The reasoning for states creating multiple programs, as stated by NIEER, includes differences in eligibility requirements, standards, funding sources, and provider types (e.g. public schools, nonprofits, and faith-based).

Georgia operates a single pre-K program, that last school year enrolled over 60 percent of Georgia’s 4-year-olds (over 84,000 students), an increase from 53 percent in 2002 and about a 1,000 student bump from the 2011-12 school year.

In comparison, North Carolina enrolled roughly 20 percent (around 25,000 students) of their 4-year-olds in the 2011-12 school year. Virginia’s Preschool Initiative enrolled approximately 16 percent (about 16,000 students) of the state’s 4-year-old population.

In the 2009-10 school year, Georgia reached another milestone by becoming the first state in the nation to serve more than one million children in a voluntary, universal program funded by a state lottery. Having a solitary program helps minimize confusion for parents on what the state offers in terms of early childhood education.

NIEER points out that this confusion does occur in states with a proliferation of state-funded pre-K programs, and risks parents not being aware of the best program for their child.  Having a simplistic and easily understood model has clearly assisted in boosting enrollment, but what benefits are participants yielding from this program?

Georgia’s pre-K impacts
A few studies have concluded that pre-K programs as a whole are not indicative to later success in school. Many of you may have read the recent Brookings Institute article that makes the argument that state-funded universal pre-K programs have little, if any, impact on a student’s future performance.

Yet studies in Georgia have come to different conclusions. In 2011, the University of Georgia’s College of Education released results of a 10-year longitudinal study about Georgia’s pre-K program in the Clarke County School System. The study found that at-risk children, those that live at or below the poverty line and who attended Georgia’s pre-K Program, outperformed their peers who did not attend pre-K. This outperformance was seen on achievement measures in kindergarten and first-grade in reading and mathematics.

To put this impact into perspective, during the 2011-12 school year, approximately 57.8 percent of enrolled pre-K students were labeled as “at-risk” (over 45,000 students in a single pre-K year).

Georgia labels pre-K students as “at-risk” if the child and/or family participates in one of the following: Food stamps, SSI, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Child and Parent Services program, or PeachCare for Kids.  Children who participate in the free and reduced meal program through their school may also be labeled as “at-risk.”

In elementary and middle school these students continued to outperform their peers in reading and language arts.  In addition to these higher achievement scores, grade retention (also known as grade repetition) throughout elementary and middle school is significantly lower for at-risk pre-K participants than for those who did not enroll.

This impact that follows a student for seven to nine years is an achievement that may not have been expected back in 1992, but is definitely one we hope will continue and possibly expand beyond middle school years.

Next week: Additional analysis of Georgia’s Pre-K program.

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