By Stephanie Blank, GEEARS Board Chair
In the midst of a global pandemic, who doesn’t welcome an excuse to celebrate? Georgia Pre-K Week may look a little different this year, but now more than ever, it’s a necessary chance to herald and highlight the importance of Georgia Pre-K
In its 10th year, the annual event recognizes Georgia’s nationally recognized Pre-K Program, its students, their teachers, and everyone who does so much to provide quality early education to young children throughout the state. Led by Voices for Georgia’s Children and the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), partners from across the state who champion early learning, including GEEARS, come together in support of Pre-K.
This year’s event is especially poignant given the challenges our children and early education community have faced during the ongoing pandemic. We have been inspired by the commitment our Pre-K teachers have shown as they have managed the transition to virtual and hybrid classroom settings. These past six months haven’t been easy, but our early educators have handled it all with courage, patience, and grace.
We are not alone in our gratitude for their efforts, as an overwhelming majority of Georgia voters support our state’s free, lottery-funded Pre-K program. In fact, one thing that Georgians do agree on is their strong support for Georgia Pre-K.
GEEARS recently commissioned a poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates and Frederick Polls, of a diverse group of 600 likely voters from across the state. More than nine in ten respondents (91%) said they support Georgia’s Pre-K. That support cuts across lines of political party, gender, and whether or not they have young children in the home. This across-the-board support has also increased in recent years, up from previous polls in 2018 (80%) and 2014 (87%). (Stay tuned for more polling results in the coming weeks.)
This widespread approval did not emerge from a vacuum. It’s come as the result of a successful, decades-long effort to deliver high-quality, free education to our state’s four-year-olds. Since the Pre-K program began in 1992, it has served more than 1.6 million children, providing them with a solid foundation for future success. These children have received the benefits of a high-quality early education which include increased school readiness and improved health and well-being.
A longitudinal study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute found that students who attended Georgia’s Pre-K demonstrated significant rates of growth—above and beyond what would be expected for typical development—during their Pre-K and kindergarten years. This finding suggests these students entered kindergarten prepared to take advantage of subsequent learning opportunities.
As students progressed through first and second grade, observed rates of growth were less steep, indicating children were learning new skills more in line with rates expected for typical developmental growth. A separate analysis compared performance on 3rd Grade Georgia Milestones Assessments among students who did and did not attend Georgia’s Pre-K Program. Those who had attended Pre-K significantly outperformed their peers across all subject areas.
In other words, the benefits of Pre-K are clear, yet the need to continue to improve the already outstanding quality of the program and to invest in early education remains. GEEARS and its partners have advocated on behalf of Georgia’s children and their families to strengthen Georgia’s Pre-K program. Most recently, we worked tireless to protect Pre-K from the 14% budget cuts that had been initially proposed in the Georgia General Assembly. These $53 million cuts would have reduced instructional days from 180 to 167 and eliminated the opportunity for 4000 four-year olds to enroll in the program.
We immediately mobilized against the proposed cuts, and 10,000 Georgians showed their support for Pre-K by sending messages to legislators speaking out on behalf of our children. In the end, legislators listened to their constituents and responded with their own show of support and ensured that the state’s FY 21 budget included no cuts to Pre-K slots or classrooms.
Georgia has been proud that our universal Pre-K program is a national model and now is the time to reaffirm our commitment to the program. As we celebrate a Georgia Pre-K Week unlike any before, we will continue to work tirelessly alongside our partners to ensure that all of Georgia’s children have access to high-quality early learning experiences–for many decades to come.
To find ways to celebrate Georgia Pre-K Week, go to gaprekweek.org.