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Since lottery programs were launched in 1993, HOPE was given wings; Georgia Pre-K was kept in a straight jacket.  What should we expect for the future?  Better yet, what should we demand? 

After 1993, the legislature expanded the HOPE program almost every year to cover more audiences and higher tuitions.  The original target was new high school grads, then they added all graduates before 1993, a second chance for those whose grades fell below the required “B,” unlimited HOPE grants at the tech schools, special military scholarships, and home-schooled students.  Private college scholarships were quadrupled, and the Board of Regents raised tuition regularly, assured it would be covered by HOPE.  When lottery revenues were forecast to flatten out, the legislature tinkered with the definition of high school GPAs and course requirements and limited total college credit hours to try to control spending. 

Pre-K, on the other hand, was immobilized almost from the start.  Our “universal” program actually limited the number of kids to be served.  As many as 10,000 4-year-olds have waited for an opening.  Qualified providers requested 13,070 additional slots in 2010; 11,000 were denied.  Even more egregious, while tuition went up in colleges, we ignored the parallel increase in costs of Pre-K.  “Tuition,” the per child reimbursement for Pre-K, has been essentially flat for 15 years!  We required higher credentials for Pre-K teachers but we didn’t pay for them.  Another audience in great need, much like those pre-1993 high school grads, were 3-year-olds, especially disadvantaged children.  The legislature has ignored them.  

Neither unfettered funding for HOPE nor constricted funding for Pre-K will yield the results Georgia needs for education and economic success.  Please, Governor Deal, limit the changes to lottery programs this year.  We need an open discussion and a clear vision, informed by solid research and Georgia’s identifiable needs.   We don’t need the pressure and politics of the legislative session to drive these decisions.

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

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

Raise your voice for Georgia’s children and families!

Join us at a RALLY FOR REVENUES on Tuesday, March 23rd at 2 pm at the Georgia State Capitol (Washington Street Side).

State budget cuts are already threatening access to health providers, education, child welfare, and quality pre-K in Georgia and around the country. 

This column from New York Time’s columnist Bob Herbert quotes Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children’s Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Redlener says:

“We’re looking at all these cuts in human services — in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis.”

In Georgia, advocates, including Voices for Georgia’s Children, have joined together to call for a more balanced approach to the budget crisis so that Georgia can address the current crisis while also ensuring that our children and our state are well positioned in the future. This crisis cannot be addressed by cuts alone.  The governor and state legislators have already cut essential programs deeply, threatening our state’s progress.  Now, leaders must consider revenue measures.

Raise your voice with us on Tuesday to ensure that revenue options should not be off the table.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The State Senate’s Higher Education Committee passed Senate Bill 496 establishing a needs based HOPE grant today.  Currently, the HOPE scholarship is based on merit, not need.  And, although there are currently over 8000 children on a waiting list for Georgia Pre-K, the program is supposed to be available to any family to wishes to enroll their 4 year-old.

SB 496 would establish a new program which would award small grants for college to families based on need as long as state lottery funds are available.

Providing needs-based grants for college has merit.  Yet, it concerns me that legislators are moving closer towards approving a new use of lottery funds at a time when costs of HOPE and pre-K already exceed lottery revenues, the demand for pre-K slots exceeds availability,  and the Governor has proposed cutting the Resource Coordinator Program which provides essential services that ensure school success to at-risk pre-K families.

Pre-K families in Georgia should not get whatever pennies are left in the lottery after HOPE and the new needs-based grant are funded.  Instead it is time for a re-examination of the goals, funding formulas and priorities of all programs funded by the Georgia Lottery.

Mindy Binderman, Director of Goverment Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

Why should Georgia invest in very young children, from birth to kindergarten?  At Voices’ 6th Annual Legislative Breakfast today we heard two strong and equally compelling reasons.  Because it’s good for the economy and it is certainly good for children.

Phil Peterson, Senior VP for Aon Consulting, made the business argument:  Our workforce is both shrinking and losing its competitiveness and early childhood development is essential to getting more kids through high school and college.  Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College and co-chair of United Way’s Early Education Commission, centered her call to action on the faces of young people, both those who are thriving and those who are barely surviving, reminding us of the real opportunities to intervene early to help families and children.

I will update this blog with copies of Mr. Peterson’s slides in the next few days.  Meanwhile, some important links were suggested to reiterate the need for investment and advocacy for young children.  Mr. Peterson co-chairs PA’s Early Education Investment Commission and is on the advisory board to Partnership for America’s Economic Success.  He also partners with Mission: Readiness in its commitment to a more prepared military.  And don’t forget Voices’ blog which has featured a number of posts on early childhood and PreK.

Pat

One of the bright spots on any given day under the Gold Dome is watching citizen activists, many of whom have taken the day of from work or arranged child care or simply driven across the state, learn to navigate the halls and speak with their elected officials.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting several resource coordinators (RC’s) who work to  prepare low-income Pre-K children for school by providing support services in health and wellness, child development, community resources and kindergarten readiness.  These women are clearly passionate about education and about children and they have already spent several days at the Capitol sharing stories with legislators about the effectiveness of their program which is in danger of getting cut.

Today, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and Voices for Georgia’s Children have released two policy briefs analyzing Governor Sonny Purdue’s proposed 2011 budget for the lottery-funded Georgia Pre-K.

The FY 2011 proposed budget would keep the lottery-funded Pre-K budget flat. It calls for an additional 2000 Pre-K slots at the expense of 75% of the Department of Early Care and Learning’s Resource Coordinator (RC) program. The proposal endangers the state’s capacity to deliver essential services for an effective high-quality Pre-K program and the states’ national ranking in this vital service.

At a time when only 58% of Georgia’s 4 year-olds are served by Georgia Pre-K and over 8, 300 children are on a waiting list, the need for additional Pre-K slots is uncontroverted. Yet, Georgia Pre-K needs to expand to meet demand AND keep Resource Coordinators who are vital to providing high-quality Pre-K experiences.

I hope you’ll raise your voices with us to support for the Resource Coordinator program and additional Pre-K slots in FY 2011.

Click here to download SEF’s Georgia Pre-K Policy Briefs.

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