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Georgia’s Pre-K: Governor Deal released his recommendations the funding and implementation of Georgia’s Pre-K. The plan commits to using one third of Lottery education revenues for Pre-K, includes the addition of 5000 Pre-K slots, but cut the Pre-K day from 6.5 hours to 4 hours. Some funds have been added to augment extended stay programs for low income children as well as transportation, but questions remain as to the effects such a significant cut in funding. Click here to read the Governor’s press release about his Pre-K and HOPE plan.

GA Pre-K Week: Both HR 362 (Rep. Brooks Coleman, 97th Dist.) and SR 183 (Sen. Fran Millar, 40th Dist.) were read and adopted, declaring the first week of October as Georgia Pre-K Week in recognition of the educational, societal and economic importance of preparing young children for kindergarten through pre-k programs.

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.

Pre-K:
The Lottery funded Pre-K budget has been cut by $20 million down to $335 million and is projected to serve the same number of children as in FY2011: 84,000 kids. This endangers not only the quality of the classroom portion of the programs, which were, by national averages, already underfunded by about 25%, but also, potentially the number and function of the Pre-K Transition Coaches, who work in the communities to assess and provide supports for Pre-K families.

HOPE:
For Georgia’s public colleges, the budget for FY2012 is $303 million, down from $474 million. For Georgia’s private colleges, appropriations are down from $59 million to $40 million. Georgia Technical Colleges and Schools have taken a hit as well; FY2012 is budgeted at $132 million down from $206 million in FY2011. Check out our blog posting from 1/18/11 (The Recession is Doing All It Can) for more details.

Bottom Line:
The Governor does not want to count on Lottery reserves to help any of these programs, so something will need to give.

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

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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