Georgia has one of the oldest pre-kindergarten programs in the country, dating back to the early 1990s.
Some 84,000 children attend the fully-funded pre-K programs which are both public and privately operated. While it is intuitive that “at-risk” children benefit from pre-K instruction, actually approximately 58 percent of children state-wide are classified as “at-risk,” which of course means that about 42 percent are not “at-risk.” Georgia has one of the few Pre-K programs that is totally funded by lottery receipts. Pre-K appropriations from the lottery total $312 million or about one-third of lottery revenues for education. Pre-K programs fund 180 days of instruction.
Research on the impacts of early childhood education in Georgia has shown that programs like pre-K have lasting impacts on participants and positive external effects on families and the surrounding community. Over the next week or so, we will examine Georgia’s nationally-ranked, lottery-funded pre-K. To fully understand our pre-K program we will go over the history, then delve into the basics of the program in addition to how Georgia funds the program. We will also look at enrollment, some of the impacts on participants, state standards in place for the Georgia program, and weaknesses and strengths of Georgia’s pre-K.
Georgia’s pre-K program: A history
During the 1990 gubernatorial election in Georgia, Gov. Zell Miller proposed the creation of the Lottery for Education Account (as passed in the Lottery for Education Act). Governor Miller committed the account to fund supplemental educational programs. He specifically supported the development and creation of a statewide preschool program and a college scholarship initiative, now the HOPE Scholarship.
From its beginning in 1992, when the Pre-K program began as a pilot and served 750 at-risk 4-year-old children to 2013 when 84,000 children are being served, there have been changes along the way. In 1993-94, the first lottery funds were utilized to provide the Pre-K program to more than 8,700 at-risk 4-year-old children.
In September 1995, the program started to shift into its current format as it officially opened to all eligible Georgia 4-year-old children, and not just at-risk families. This change made it the nation’s first universal preschool program for 4-year-olds.
During the same school year (1995-96), the program also tripled in size from 15,500 to 44,000 slots. To accommodate this expansion, Georgia established a relationship with private sector providers to enroll students in lottery-funded slots. This allowed the Pre-K program to expand quickly without having to utilize funds for capital outlay on new buildings or to expand existing facilities. The utilization of private facilities has also allowed the program to reach more children in areas where physical school size may be limited or travel to a public provider would require a lengthy bus drive.
A public-private partnership of this magnitude was arguably a first for Georgia and the nation. This partnership over the years has opened the door to a variety of the state’s current providers, including Head Start agencies, public schools, private child care centers, faith-based organizations, state colleges and universities, and military facilities. This variety allows Georgia to maintain a highly accessible program, while not only keeping pace with population growth, but also expanding the percentage of children enrolled.
Pre-K basics and funding
Although there are several types of providers, the basic structure and funding mechanisms are consistent throughout providers. The program is based on a school-year model and 180 full days of instruction.
Currently, the state funds 84,000 Pre-K student slots throughout the DECAL program. Class sizes are restricted to 20-22 children with a lead and assistant teacher, allowing for an adult-child ratio of 1:11. Lead teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field (unless previously approved), and assistant teachers are required to have at least a child development associate credential. In addition, program guidelines provide minimum salary requirements for lead teachers based on credentials, as well as minimum salary requirements for assistant teachers meeting the credential requirements. Further, to maintain quality standards, annual training is required for all staff directly associated with Georgia’s Pre-K program.
Next: Other state’s programs and Georgia’s achievements.
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