The final lottery funded program is the voluntary Georgia pre-k program that accounts for $355 million or 31.5 percent of Lottery for Education expenditures in the fiscal year 2011 budget. The FY11 budget will fund 84,000 pre-k slots throughout the state.
The Georgia pre-k program operates as a public/private partnership. Pre-k classes are offered in traditional public schools as well as private schools and daycare providers. Because there is no capital outlay component in Lottery pre-k funding, only those systems with extra space have chosen to participate. Approximately 58 percent of all pre-k classes are currently offered in private institutions. Public schools and private development child centers are not required to offer pre-k programs, so the number of spaces available may not match the demand in a particular area. Many public school systems elect not to offer pre-k classes, so in those counties private facilities are the only option.
Unlike HOPE program expenditures, which increase automatically depending on the number of participants and the cost of tuition, the legislature must appropriate funds to provide additional slots in the pre-k program. This has helped to control program growth. Since it essentially funds payroll costs, there is a built-in increase as salaries rise. The state spends approximately $4,200 per year per child.
The federally funded Head Start program serves about an additional 10,000 4-year-olds, which, added to the 84,000 lottery funded slots accounts for a grand total of 94,000 four year olds served. According to the Department of Early Care and Learning, this accounts for approximately 65 percent of eligible 4-year-olds. That would indicate a total of approximately 145,000 eligible 4-year-olds.
Although the Georgia Pre-K program serves a high number of “at-risk” children, there is no requirement to serve the neediest. A total of 53 percent of children served are classified as Category One. Category One eligibility is defined as the child’s and/or family’s participation in a public assistance program such as food stamps, Medicaid, SSI or PeachCare. Combined with Head Start, which is only available to low-income families or families eligible for public assistance, over 54,000 needy 4-year-olds are served by publicly-funded pre-k programs.
According to 2005 Census data, approximately 49 percent of Georgia households make less than $50,000 per year, and according to the Annie E.
Casey Foundation, approximately 20 percent of Georgia’s children are in families classified as “low income.” Kids Count Data indicate that in 2008 there were 202,000 children living in poverty in Georgia. If the number in each age group is somewhat equal, then there are somewhere around 40,000 4-year-olds from low income families.
Thoughts to ponder concerning Georgia’s pre-k program
While no solid data has confirmed a measureable improvement in kindergarten, first and second grades, there is no doubt that children who receive little stimulation in the first three years of life benefit greatly from the stimulation and basic knowledge gained in pre-k programs.
Poverty is probably the surest determinant of that deficit in young children birth to 3 years old.
If 53 percent of pre-k enrollment is high risk and that number is in the 40,000 range, then the state is reaching our most needy children.
Conversely, if the balance of the children served totals 47 percent, then those children who are not at risk, likely come from families where income is higher and opportunities greater.
The families of the 47 percent of enrollees arguably could afford to pay for at least part of the cost of pre-k, maybe on a sliding scale like PeachCare.
The pre-k program presently takes almost one-third of all lottery dollars spent. If in fact, the program is enrolling all of the at risk students, then the dollars saved by charging could be redirected to other lottery programs like the HOPE Scholarship.
If the program is not reaching the group of 4-year-olds most needy, then some of the savings from charging higher income parents could be used to create more slots for those 4-year-olds who need it most.
Charging on a sliding scale would be an incentive for private providers to enroll additional classes which might make the program more palatable from an income standpoint.
I may be reached at
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