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Private School Tax Credits: HB 325 (Rep. Earl Ehrhart, 36th Dist.) alters Georgia’s existing private school scholarship tax credit law. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Increase the current cap on the program from $50 million to $62.5 million and, in effect, permanently remove any cap on tax credits for future years,
  • Remove any income limits on SSO tax credits by individuals or married couples, provided that they pay at minimum 25 percent of their total tax liability,
  • Allow private pre-kindergarten programs to be eligible to receive SSO funds.
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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.

Pre-K Day at the Capitol draws a crowd! Left to right: Robin Ferst, president and founder of the Ferst Foundation; Bobby Cagle, DECAL commissioner; Pat Willis, Voices executive director; and teachers, parents and children from local Pre-K centers. A big thank you to all of our supporters. More pictures available on Flickr (feed below on blog) !

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.

In 2009, Georgia was awarded an $8.9 million federal grant to improve its educational data system. Since then, Georgia Department of Education has been developing a statewide Longitudinal Data System (LDS), which allows the State, school districts, schools, teachers and ultimately, parents to make data-driven decisions to improve student learning. In fact, a large piece of the Federal Race to the Top Grant Georgia received last year is tied to the implementation of such a system.

Enrollment, attendance, assessment, and course information for Georgia’s public school students has been gathered for ages, and now can be easily and quickly reviewed. The application is designed to players at every level to make data- driven decisions to improve student learning, and allow assessment and planning which could help close achievement gaps. Already, the system has been implemented across most of Georgia, and though districts can choose whether or not to participate in the program, so far all but one county has chosen to opt in.

Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend demo on the DOE’s K-12 LDS, which some day (hopefully soon) will also track students through preschool and post secondary school as well. Though the system still needs a few more bells and whistles, the sheer ability to drill down into long term data about each district, school, teacher and student is pretty impressive, and useful. I am even more pleased, however, that the system promotes education as a continuum. Long has Georgia needed to align the designs and demands of Pre-K, K-12, college and technical schools so that investments made in all parts of the journey come to fruition for each child.

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.

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?

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

Is there a special responsibility in being the first? Don’t we owe it to our children to show them that it is not necessarily the first one out of the starting gate but, instead the runner who takes the biggest strides that wins the race?

As I observed members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus at their first meeting of the session today, I found myself contemplating the special roles and burdens of being the first at something while also celebrating the possibilities inherent in breaking new ground. It was exciting to be in the room as a bi-partisan group of female senators and representatives congratulated Representative Jan Jones on her election as Speaker Pro Tem! And, it was gratifying to hear Representative Jones speak not only about her own plans but to also listen to her acknowledge that she hopes to set a pace for other women to follow.

In 1993, Georgia set the pace for pre-K programs around the country by establishing our universal lottery funded pre-K program, and we still lead the nation in total enrollment of four-year olds. Yet, we have more families who wish to enroll their children in Pre-K than we have slots available. And, other states have taking deeper strides to help the most at-risk young children by extending programs to three-year olds and targeting specific resources for maximum impact on state outcomes.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to celebrate another first during the new Speaker Pro Tem’s term and add enough Pre-K slots to eliminate the waiting list?

As the Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy at Voices for Georgia’s Children, it is my job to be the organization’s chief lobbyist under the Gold Dome and convener of potential advocates for children throughout the state.

In this challenging fiscal climate, it can be a daunting task to climb the steps to the Capitol each day as we attempt to make the case that programs and policies that are proven to have positive outcomes for children should receive legislative support. Voices and our partners are all painfully aware that we have our work cut out for us as we work to secure additional pre K slots, support the provision of quality child care, revise Georgia’s outdated Juvenile Code, and ensure that children have health coverage.
But, as I contemplate the challenges that I expect to face when the General Assembly convenes in just a few hours, I am surprised, even shocked, to find myself somewhat exhilarated. Why?
In recent weeks, I have been pleased to discover a new energy among the child advocacy and policy community to work together and a new transparency exhibited by child serving agencies. After all, there is no cost and there is much to gain through collaboration. We know that children have better outcomes when all the organizations that serve them work together, and so I am hopeful that even in this dismal economy we can spend the next 40 legislative days crafting and passing policies to improve child outcomes.
I am also looking forward to the possibilities that are open to us as advocates as we embrace new technologies.
I’m hoping that this new blog actually provides us with the opportunity to have a conversation of sorts with people across the state who want to make a difference for kids. Throughout the session, I’ll be posting daily updates describing salient developments affecting children at the legislature and useful advocacy tips. My focus will be on the issues as they move through the legislative process, not on partisan politics. I won’t have the time, space, or energy to provide an exhaustive recap of each committee meeting or speech made on the floor of the House or Senate. There are plenty of places on the web that you can go to if that is your preference. Instead, I hope to use my space to share with you the most important actions and developments each day for kids and, when appropriate, tips on how to advocate effectively. My colleagues will provide commentaries, analysis, and, hopefully, a little inspiration from time to time. Please feel free to comment often!

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