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For detailed information on these bills, use the Legislation Tracker tool on our website.

SB 152:  Daycare centers run by church ministries, non-profit religious schools or religious charities to be exempt from licensing.  Status:  In Senate Education and Youth Committee. Bill held at the request of Committee Chairman for further refinement before the 2012 Session.

SB 68:  Permitting parents to petition to turn around low-achieving schools.  Status:  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

SB 87:  Students from military families and foster care to be eligible for Special Needs Scholarships (Vouchers).  Status:  tabled in the Senate.  Could be removed from the table if the proponents could raise enough support for the measure.

HB 326: Lays out parameters for post-secondary education funding from Georgia Lottery revenues and state sponsored loans.  There is no GA Pre-K language in that bill.  Status:  Signed into law by Governor Deal on 3/15.

SB 185: The bill now authorizes the Department to issue an order providing notice of intended emergency closure of an early care and education program under two circumstances – 1.  death of a child (where death was not medically anticipated or no serious rule violations related to the death occurred by program) and 2. where a child’s safety or welfare is in imminent danger.  Upon request for hearing by the program, the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) would hold a hearing within 48 hours to determine if the closure is warranted.  If OSAH agrees, the program would be closed for a period of 21 days.  Status:  Passed the Senate and House.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

HB 325:  The bill alters the previously established private school vouchers law where the vouchers given by School Scholarship Organizations (where the donors are eligible for an significant income tax credit) will now adjust the $50 million tax credit cap to the inflation rate of the Consumer Price Index.  Previously, there was simply a $50 M cap. The new legislation also limits the amount an organization can give to the average of the state and local funding per pupil as determined by the Department of Education and allows funding to go to private Pre-Ks, which, to date, have been excluded.

SB 291:  The bill, put in the Hopper on the last day of the Session would move Pre-K funding to the General Fund, would be appropriated by the General Assembly and prioritized by the Department of Education.   It would lock in 2013 levels (which have not yet been decided) and allow change only as determined by the state Board of Education.  The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HB 81:  Would require fiscal notes for bills with significant impact on school system revenues.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Withdrawn in the House and recommitted.

HB 181:  Would allow the State Board of Education to waive prior year in Georgia school as requirement for special needs scholarship.  Status: Passed the House on Monday (3/14).  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HR 495:  Would create the Joint Higher Education Finance Study Committee to Evaluate Higher Education Funding Formula.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Withdrawn in the House and recommitted.

HB 314:  This bill guarantees that foster care students are granted excused absences from school to attend court proceedings relating to the students’ foster care.  Status:  Passed House and Senate.

Good afternoon on this lovely Saturday in January! I’m Jessica, Voices’ new communications manager. I just wanted to introduce myself and share a childhood memory that complements Polly’s latest post. From time to time, the Voices staff and our supporters will share memories and lessons from childhood on the Voices Today blog. These posts may stir up childhood memories of your own (please share!) and give us all the opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have influenced our lives.

Whenever I eat fresh parsley I’m immediately transported back in time to my nanny and grandpa’s mint green kitchen. They were old-fashioned folks who grew much of their own produce in their suburban backyard. They spent hours in the garden and hours in the kitchen. They rarely cooked anything from a box.

I remember picking parsley with my grandpa and can still taste the delicious cauliflower cakes, cucumber salad and lima beans my grandma served on their formica table. Because of these positive food experiences, I have an appreciation for fresh food. I also recognize the challenge of eating healthy in our modern society. If I wrestle with purchasing a three-dollar red pepper, it’s completely understandable why someone at or below the poverty level would pass.

With 57 percent of Georgia’s children eligible for free and reduced school lunches, it’s important that we advocate for fresh foods in schools that will help them develop positive food habits to reflect on and carry into adulthood. To some children, the school cafeteria is their grandparents’ garden…

Why did three Georgia companies merit placement on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For?  Because they support child care for their employees, including summer camps in some cases.  AFLAC, Alston & Bird, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta joined number one ranked SAS, Inc. in North Carolina in offering on-site or accessible quality child care as part of the employment package.  Other child and family-friendly benefits were also detailed in the article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Jan. 21.

If Georgia wants to be seen as a great place to work, ensuring access to quality childcare for families in our workforce is a good place to start.  During the hard economic times of the last two years, Georgia had the benefit of $47 million in federal stimulus funds to eliminate the waiting list for child care subsidies and to help 600 child care centers improve the quality of their programs.  With the loss of those stimulus funds, 10,000 families will be without access to quality care for their kids. 

What will happen?  to the children? to the employees? to employers?  We are likely to see more latchkey kids, more employee absenteeism and lower productivity.  Solutions?  Public/private partnerships, tax credits for employers, child care tax credits for families, and expanding Georgia PreK .

Maybe we can’t do everything at once but let’s start planning for the future.  The greatest innovations and the most effective solutions are born out of hard times.  Let’s seize the opportunity!

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Governor Nathan Deal’s new appointments to state agencies that focus on children bring some  young but proven leaders to kids’ issues.  We are excited by the prospects of these very able and dedicated public servants joining current agency directors in working together and setting goals for children.  

All have histories of cooperation and collaboration with child advocates and community service providers.  We welcome them and offer our support to improve child well being and raise our national rankings from the 40s to respectable levels.  Thank you, Governor Deal, and welcome to: 

  •  Amy Howell, former deputy in DJJ who got her start at the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory Law School, will be the new commissioner of DJJ. 
  • Rachelle Carnesale, former deputy of the Office of the Child Advocate, will lead the Department of Family and Chidren’s Services.
  • Bobby Cagle, former DFCS legislative director, will lead the department of Early Care and Learning.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

A new Congress comes in January but the current Congress has work to do.  Our children are waiting for us to meet our commitments to them.  All they are asking for is a healthy meal, a nurturing environment, and a solid education.  Surely we can deliver!

Let’s start with a healthy meal.  Our current Congressmen have returned to Washington this week with lots on their plate (pun intended!).  Beyond the important economic issues that dominate the airwaves is the equally important issue of reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act.  Almost 1.3 million Georgia Children depend on this for school lunches and other meals.  Your Congressman in the U.S. House needs to hear from you about getting this done by December 31.

Kids also need quality care while Mom and Dad work and early education programs to help them get ready to read.  The federal appropriations bill can ensure that 300,000 little ones get the continuing benefit of Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Early Learning Challenge Grants.  Add this to your talking points with your Congressmen.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Pre-K is “arguably the best investment we can make in education.”  So said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 29 during a live broadcast on Sirius XM Radio.  When asked about the role of Pre-K in the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s major education bill, Secretary Duncan was clear that K-12 needs to be invested in early childhood education.

Those who worry about college education likewise recommend investing in pre-school education.  The College Board recently decried the fact that the U.S. is slipping in its ranking of college-educated adults.  The solution?  According to Gasper Caperton, president of the College Board, we must  “think P-16 and improve education from pre-school through higher education.”

In the past 17 years Georgia has spent $12 billion of lottery funds to support both Pre-K and college access.  Yet we have not significantly increased our national rankings in either K-12 achievement or college completion.  Why not?  The objectives may be right but perhaps the program designs are wrong.  We need a better return on our investment.  This is the challenge for the next governor and legislature. 

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

The next constellation in the public policy sky may look like a baby crib.  This week two powerful organizations with strong business representation publicly underscored the need to invest in very young children.  Without it, they agree, we will not achieve higher graduation rates and work-ready young adults.  Furthermore, our businesses and government, meaning ultimately consumers and taxpayers, will pay more later.

On Monday the United Way Early Education Commission released its recommendations after 18 months of study.  Led by Dennis Lockhart, chair of the Atlanta Fed, and Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman, the Commission was clear that young children from birth to five must be a priority for Georgia, meaning that we must invest so that children are ready to learn by kindergarten and “reading to learn” by third grade.

Today, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education emailed the third edition of Economics of Education.  Introduced by a letter from the executives of GPEE and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the report lays out three critical issues related to success in education and workforce development.  The first issue, Early Life Experiences, included not only the need for our Georgia PreK program but for infant and maternal health, quality child care and family supports.

Before we “race to the top” in our K-12 schools, let’s be sure we get in shape before the starting line.  Healthy and ready preschoolers will make the race a whole lot easier.

Pat Willis, Executive Director, Voices for Georgia’s Children

After several hours of debate and a delay to allow the Senate to pass HB 1055 which raises certain user fees, contains the hospital bed tax and phases in property tax cuts and income tax cuts for seniors, the House passed the FY 11 budget today.  The budget now goes to the Senate.

In response to Georgia’s continuing fiscal crisis, the budget passed by the House contains deep cuts to K-12 education and child welfare workers, furloughs of state workers, reduction in the number of case workers and benefits workers.  Yet, Voices was pleased that the House has endorsed two Voices funding priorities.

The House’s version of the FY 11 budget contains the necessary state match for the implementation of the Planning for Healthy Babies Medicaid waiver program.  When it implements the waiver, the Department of Community Health can pull down 90 cents from the federal government for every 10 cents of state funds spent to provide women under 200 percent of the federal poverty limits with health services targeted to ensure healthy pregnancies and decrease the number of very low birth weight infants in our state. Not only does this promote better child outcomes but it is also projected to bring significant savings to Georgia.

In addition, Voices has also spoken against the Governor’s proposed cut to the lottery funded pre-k Resource Coordinator program which provides vital services to empower parents to become engaged in their child’s education.  We are happy to note that the House version of the FY 11 budget, reduces the size of the cut to Resource Coordinators by 50% while also funding 2000 new pre-k slots.

We’ve passed an important hurdle and will continue to work with members of the Senate to ensure that amendments to these items are not made in the Senate’s version of the FY 11 budget.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

Leaders of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which organized the drafting of the K-12 standards, told early-childhood experts in meetings and conference calls late last month that they hope to begin working on zero-to-5 standards within a couple of months

The move for K-12 Common Core Academic Standards has largely been embraced with governors from 48 states signing on to the effort. Now comes word of plans to work on standards for very young children.

A new article available on the EducationWeek website [Both Value & Harm Seen in K-3 Common Standards] addresses some of the potential good and potential pitfalls around standards for K-3 education and provides the above quote referencing the latest move to expand the standards even further to include the youngest children.

We know that ensuring all children are school-ready is important. Research is clear that our most vulnerable children start school already far behind their peers with limited vocabularies and limited social skills. Those children rarely catch-up. Will “standards” help? What are your thoughts?

Among other good news for children in the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress on March 23 is a commitment to reduce child abuse and neglect through home visitation programs.  The bill authorizes $1.5 billion over five years to be awarded as grants to states for services to families with infants and young children.  

Here’s the challenge for Georgia:  In order to receive funds the state must conduct assessments of factors indicating need for services and existing home visiting programs to ensure better targeting and coordination.   The assessments must be done within six months, and the clock started ticking on March 23. 

Which of our state agencies will step forward to lead this effort?  DFCS which has about $900,000 in one model of home visitation?  Public Health which is newly re-organizing with a strong interest but no designated funding?  The Governor’s Office for Children and Families which absorbed the Children’s Trust Fund , once but no longer a major source of home visiting funding?  The Department of Early Care and Learning which has an inherent interest in the age group but no history or funding for early intervention programs?

Georgia’s children desperately need these programs.  Child abuse is greatest among very young children.  Home visitation programs have proven to reduce child abuse and neglect and have promise of improving child development for later learning.  Advocates need to step up and encourage state agency leadership and collaboration to get these assessments done now.  The clock is ticking.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children, www.georgiavoices.org

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