By Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, (GEEARS)
Imagine a scenario in which the state of Georgia decided that in order to balance the budget, several thousand students could no longer attend third grade. And what if this happened even though the state had a pool of funds ready to be tapped into to avoid these cuts in the first place?
Sounds far-fetched, right?
But that’s exactly what our legislators might tell the parents of our state’s rising Pre-K students as they consider unnecessary and short-sighted cuts to Pre-K.
For nearly three decades, Georgia has built a nationally recognized, Lottery-funded Pre-K Program that has served 1.6 million children and annually employs around 8,000 teachers. This program prepares children with the critical skills and experiences necessary for success in school and has become a shining example of the power early education.
However, in response to the dire budget situation caused by falling tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s leadership has mandated across-the-board 14% budget cuts. This would directly impact the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), the agency that manages the Pre-K program so efficiently and effectively. To meet this one-size-fits-all approach, DECAL would have to cut around $53 million from the Pre-K budget, leading to a reduction of instructional days from 180 to 167 and the cutting of 4,000 slots (approximately 180 classrooms) from the program.
If implemented, these cuts would mean that Georgia’s youngest children would miss out on gaining the critical skills that prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond. A short-term reduction to Pre-K would have a long-term impact, and we cannot afford to keep our kids home at a time when brain development matters most.
Many families also depend on the early education these programs provided, especially as more Georgians come out of lock-down and return to their workplaces.
Perhaps most alarming, these cuts are unnecessary. Pre-K is funded through the Georgia Lottery revenues, which have remained steady. The Lottery also has a rainy-day reserve fund of more than $1 billion dollars, $700 million of which is available unrestricted. Supporting our children through tough times is exactly what we should be doing with these funds.
When GEEARS started this Guardians of Atlanta’s Future column with Sheltering Arms, the Junior League of Atlanta, and Communities in Schools, we by no means thought we were the only guardians out there. Quite the opposite—we know there were millions out there like you who are willing and able to join the fight to protect our youngest Georgians.
And the time to act is now if we want to protect Georgia’s Lottery-funded Pre-K Program. There are several things we can all do to help:
- Take Action: Join the more than 7,000 Georgians who have used our action alert on Pre-K to reach out to their legislators, and please share it with your friends and family!
- Complete Our Survey: If you are a Georgia parent/caregiver of a child 5 years of age or younger, we invite you to participate in this survey about your experiences with parenting and child care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Share Your Early Education Story: We believe your stories will help maintain vital funding for child care programs, Georgia’s Pre-K, and Head Start. We will share your experiences with change makers and stakeholders to strengthen our advocacy efforts as we work to improve outcomes for young children and families in our state. Click here to view suggested topics and submit your story.
Together, we can protect and defend the future of Pre-K in Georgia, and the future of thousands of young children across the state.