Early childhood education connoisseurs back Gov. Deal’s bold proposal to spend $50 million to halt the trend of Georgia’s pre-kindergarten programs that increased class sizes and cut teachers pay.
“We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-k program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools,” Deal told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-k program.”
In 2011, the state cut pre-k program’s school year by 20 days to save money, while simultaneously, the maximum classroom size on average was increased from 20 to 22 students.
Despite the fact that the 180-day school calendar has since been restored, the class sizes have not been reduced.
Mindy Binderman, president of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, says the governor could’ve made deeper cuts at the time.
“His first proposal, that some people forget, was actually serving more kids in pre-k, but cutting the pre-k day to a half-day program,” she says. “That would’ve really affected our teaching staff, that would have affected the quality of our Georgia pre-k.”
Deal said he plans to get the extra funding from a lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million last year, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. Deal previously opposed requests to tap the fund.
“The scare we’ve seen just this past week with the stock market is a reminder that we always should err on the side of being cautious,” the governor said Friday. “But when we do have the money available, we need to do what we can to spend it wisely.”
The trouble of retaining teachers, increased class sizes, and cuts in school days and teachers pay severely damaged Georgia reputation as a leaders in early education, says Steve Barnett, the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research. The program now keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent.
Some Democratic lawmakers have urged Deal to spend the lottery funding differently. State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants the state to cover a gap between the financial aid that technical college students receive and the cost of their tuition. She said the funding would only total a few hundred dollars a semester for most tech school students.
“The difference in funding is sometimes only $400 or $500, and it’s the difference between completing a program and someone not completing it,” Evans said. “And anything we can do to drive more people into the doors of a technical college is going to result in more people in unfilled jobs.”