Is Georgia’s pre-k worth the money?

Parents say they depend on Georgia’s universal pre-kindergarten program. But state auditors have released a report showing Georgia has spent more than $216 million on the program since 1996 without any data showing it works.

Researchers at Georgia State University reached similar conclusions in 2006.

Members of the Georgia House asked for the audit. Legislators said they believe the program helps, but want to see proof.

Anecdotally, many parents and elementary school teachers say the program works. Many of the classes have wait-lists of parents wanting to sign up their children.

Education experts around the country use the program as an example for others to follow as a way to get children – especially those from low-income homes – ready for school.

The agency overseeing the program, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said it should have data showing results by the 2010-11 school year.

Has Georgia’s universal pre-k been worth the investment? What data do you want to see to prove it works?

If you don’t think the program is working, what else do you think Georgia should do with the money?

26 comments Add your comment


June 19th, 2009
9:25 am

You are overgeneralizing the report and the concerns that generated the report. This audit is for one specific aspect of the prek program: resource coordination. Many of the prek programs that serve areas where there is a high impact due to poverty are eligible to have additional funds for this program. This allows the prek program to offer additional services to children and parents in these areas where poverty impacts families.

The audit has done little more than reveal the fact that there was not a means to collect data over time to evaluate the program. Georgia State’s study a few years ago showed mixed results, too.

The prek program in our state is a good one. I hate to see this kind of trumped up charge that will be used as a means to try to dismantle it.


June 19th, 2009
9:43 am

Ditto to what Tony said. This program is one of the few things GA can say we do better than just about anyone in the country. The jury may be out on this one program of PreK, but it represents a very small portion of its budget. That $216 million is spread over 10 or 12 years.

the smiling sub

June 19th, 2009
10:24 am

Thank you, Tony. THIS is why I read this blog daily, even if I rarely post: To get a more complete picture of education issues. As one who frequently subs in kindergarten, I can only offer that it is extremely obvious from the very first day of school which children have been exposed to the school environment, as they are already familliar with the basic rules and expectations of the classroom. This makes them much more ready to learn than those children experiencing the classroom for the first time. I would equate it to the difference for a farmer between having the ground already plowed and prepared to seed versus having to remove the rocks from the soil and plow the ground before any actual planting can begin.


June 19th, 2009
10:57 am

Not having any data to show it works does not mean it’s not working – it means that no one has collected enough data to show one way or another – which I find amazing in itself.

Perhaps the lesson should be that when lawmakers fund an innovative program, they should also fund a study mechanism.

So far as saving money goes…as the article says, the program was designed for “at-risk” children, but is open to children at all income levels. Only allowing the children for whom the program is designed would save money, but would also draw protests from the higher-income parents who would then have to pay for daycare or private preschools.

I’ll also note that I’ve read studies of similar programs that say if all students are allowed, the programs don’t necessarily reduce “achievement gaps”, because all children benefit from the program, not just the “at-risk” students.

jim d

June 19th, 2009
11:39 am

Oh yeah, this comment says it all “Parents say they depend on Georgia’s universal pre-kindergarten program”

And why not–free baby setting for all!! Maybe–this is part of what is wrong with education and society in general here in the USA. We constantly read comments on this blog regarding personal responsability. Duh, think this may be an area that falls under “PERSONAL”

And Maybe–just MAYBE we should stop expecting government to provide EVERYTHING. Ya think?

Nope, don’t guess many will agree since teachers would never — EVER say or support anything that might cost another educator their tax funded job.

jim d

June 19th, 2009
11:45 am

ok, ok–my bad, funding is lottery money–but let that dry up now that parenst feel pre-k is a right and see where the funding will come from

jim d

June 19th, 2009
12:08 pm

Tony lets talk aabout the pre k program,

It was designed for at risk students, and the problem, i suspect, is that many of the targeted students are not enrolled. Lets look for a report telling us the percentages of at risk students that are being admitted into the program. The problem with such a report is that we would see that the program is a total failure–much like the entire public educational system in this country.


June 19th, 2009
1:17 pm

jim d – you continually make the false assertion that public education in the US is a total failure. This is easily refutable in many ways. How can we talk about something when you lay out from the beginning such faulty claims.

Yes, originally Georgia’s PreK program was open to at-risk students. Families had to qualify their children based on income and other factors commonly associated with children at-risk of failure in school. Within a few years, the program opened its doors to all 4-year old children. In our schools, the number of children in poverty mirrors our free/reduced lunch program. Meaning, the proportion of children at-risk in prek is similar to those at-risk throughout the rest of the school.

Two years ago, we compiled test scores for children from prek and compared them to children that did not attend prek. We did not carry out extensive statistical analyses of the numbers, but noticed that a higher proportion of students from prek were succeeding in elementary school.

It disgusts me that there are so many people who want to claim failure of school programs based on little more than personal feelings, innuendo, and media hype. You have all been fed the hype for so long that you believe it lock, stock and barrel, without regard for the indicators that tell otherwise.


June 19th, 2009
1:30 pm

I am interested in the comments here that link “at risk” with “low parental income.” Low SES can be ONE indicator of “at risked-ness” but there are many others. If we look at ALL factors, most of the kids in pre k probably ARE at risk. (In my county, the wealthy parents don’t send their kids to PUBLIC pre k–too many Latinos–but they do send them to public school later. We have only 3 private schools that enroll, at most 100 kids total).

I taught public kindergarten for 16 years but I have not since pre-k began. I remember the challenges with 5 year olds who had never been outside their family circle, and there were many challenges. Virtually none of the children had ever been in a group situation except for Sunday School and VBS. They were never in group daycare or nursery school before kindergarten. Thinking back on the efforts to establish group rules, attitudes, and procedures, I would guess that prek is a good thing if for no other reason than that.


June 19th, 2009
1:40 pm

jim d, you are correct that the report should study the percentage of at-risk students who are and are not enrolled in the program – and perhaps study how these two groups of students differ demographically and by later school outcomes. For instance, do at-risk students who are enrolled have parents who are more concerned about education, or do they have parents who spend less time with them, and want free babysitting?

It would also, as you suggest, be interesting to see what percentage of the students in the program are actually “targeted” students.

jim d

June 19th, 2009
1:50 pm


it should also follow these students through their school career to see if there is any significant reductions in the number of at risk students that become drop outs


June 19th, 2009
1:52 pm

Who’s in the program depends on the location, I’m sure. When pre-K classes were added to Oglethorpe Elem on St. Simons Island they hired a teacher who had been at the Montessori preschool for years and had an excellent reputation, so immediately, there was a long wait-list of well-off families eager to have what they saw as essentially the private preK experience for free. Generally, I’m in favor of public preK, but that is one location where I think government has ended up paying for kids who would have been in private preK anyway, rather than providing for those who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.


June 19th, 2009
2:48 pm

Some of the comments in favor of pre-k in general seem to focus on how the kids learn the rules of classroom behavior a little earlier. That just doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to have such an expensive program. It may benefit kindergarten teachers, but it doesn’t do much for the children.
I have also read that children who attend preschool are more agressive when they enter “real” school, and that the small academic advantage kids get from pre-k entirely vanishes after a few years.


June 19th, 2009
3:17 pm

I’d qualify as one of those “rich” parents with a kid in pre-k. Actually the program in our district is top notch and I’d say that it is filled with mostly well off families because the procedures to get in require some planning and finesse, so many low IQ parents don’t even bother or couldn’t figure it out if they tried. Do I feel guilty about that? Absolutely not. If you saw the taxes that we pay every year to folks who cannot or will not take care of themselves and their families, I think it’s about time that we had a little bit of a break. The same goes for the HOPE scholarship, which we plan to take full advantage of.

I find it quite satisfying when I go into a convenience store and see long line of losers buying lottery tickets. It’s good to see them paying some sort of tax… even if it is a “stupid” tax so that folks like us who are supporting them can get a little break.


June 19th, 2009
4:05 pm

Smiley, if I could ask, why do you have your children in Pre-K? Is it so that you don’t have to pay for daycare, or do you feel that they need an academic edge for regular school?

jim d

June 19th, 2009
4:13 pm


So this article from about a year ago is wrong? And the US isn’t 24th among 29 developed countries in math?

My freind, if that isn’t dismal failure I don’t know what is.


June 19th, 2009
4:23 pm

jim d, what grade level were they testing in math? In many industrialized countries, many students don’t go to high school as we know it; they either go to work or to a technical school – so if we’re talking about a high school test here, the comparison very possibly is between their top students and all of our students.

A friend of mine says that when she was in school in Asia, the top students were allowed to attend the public schools, but students who didn’t “make the grade” weren’t allowed to go to public schools, and had to pay to attend private schools, if they could afford to. Likewise, in many countries university is free to the top students, but admittance is very selective, which may motivate HS students to work harder.

Hard to compare apples and oranges reliably.


June 19th, 2009
7:56 pm

jim d, you are too smart to get sucked into thinking that the article you posted is based on real facts. Most of the things listed in the piece can be debunked quite quickly. First, comparing our schools to the ones in India and China is completely laughable. They don’t even come close to trying to educate all the children in their countries. The 2 Million Minutes presentation is very similar to the series by Life Magazine in the 50s when it compared an American student’s day to a Russian student. I think we know how that story progressed.

The claim that students are in school from 7:00 A.M. until 7:00 P.M. is also ludicrous. The country that does get the prize for that is South Korea. But guess where the Korean parents want to send their children for school. They want to send their kids to our so-called failing schools. Now, why would that be?

As for 24 out of 29 developed countries, let’s talk about that. The article is most likely talking about PISA or TIMSS. In either case, the findings that are omitted from publication is that 25% of all the top-scoring students on these tests were American students. Now how could our failing schools do that?

Singapore usually gets the prize for math in international assessments and it’s true. They usually score the highest. But when it comes to creating new ideas, guess what. They can’t do it. The kids are programmed to calculate correct answers but they can’t generate ideas for innovations. Our state is trying to use their math curriculum as a guide for ours because it is good material.

I can provide more details, if you like. The media, politicians, and business round table people are quick to provide criticism of education and refuse to acknowledge the good things that happen in our schools. Their tactics of fear mongering and dooms day economics just don’t hold up when you truly look at the data available.

R. C. Rousseau

June 21st, 2009
2:56 am

Forget PreK. The only valid question for times like these is whether we will become a nation of SURVIVORS.
Amazing! Even some teachers are beginning to see the light…


June 21st, 2009
6:22 pm

As a 25-year teacher, I can say without reservation that pre-K programs have tremendous value. First, these schools provide poor kids a chance to learn how to properly learn and behave with other kids and how to respect and accept “normal” adult authority and guidance. The public, particularly those of us who are middle and upper class, would be dismayed to learn the pathologic and abbreviated socializations of poverty kids. And it is not just poverty like our depression-era parents had, but usually in combination with crime, drug abuse, sexual abuse and lack of loving parenting. I have seen many kids who started school in first grade never come close to catching up with other children. Most crucially, pre-K begins teaching reading skills. The second benefit pre-K provides is the means for poor parents to go to work while the kids are in a safe learning environment. Yes, all this does cost money, and the middle and upper classes foot the bill, but consider the alternative, which is production of a enormous mass of dropouts with their concommitant social problems. The REAL tragedy of pre-K is that the very worst parents do not take the time and do not care if their kids have the chance of pre-K, dooming their kids to the poverty cycle.


June 22nd, 2009
11:54 am

Let’s ask another question. Is Head Start worth the money? Studies have shown- NO. PRE-K is just a state funded Head Start program. Problem- if you live in rural Georgia you don’t have an option for a four year old other than Pre-K. Daycare centers and churchs don’t house 4-year old programs since the creation of the Georgia Pre-K program. Yes, parents use Pre-K as babysitting, but maybe they don’t have other options. The curriculum is not very challenging for kids not already behind.


June 22nd, 2009
4:02 pm

Rosie, I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe HeadStart has/had two goals: employment for low-income mothers, and child care for low-income children. IIRC, many of the “teachers” at Head Start don’t really have any teacher training. Those in GA Pre-K, by contrast, must be certified in Early Childhood Education — which may make a difference in outcome.

The curriculum isn’t designed to be challenging for kids who aren’t already behind; it’s designed to help children who are behind catch up.

JMHO, but children who aren’t “at-risk” and who have parents who read to them, talk to them, and teach them basics such as colors, shapes, numbers, and letters don’t need pre-K…and most of the children in my social & family group know those things by the time they are about 3 years old anyway.


June 22nd, 2009
9:01 pm

GA DOES NOT require Pre-K teachers to be certified. Check it out if you don’t believe me. Pre-K teachers can have four year or two year degree/technical college. Headstart does require teacher training- also from technical college.


June 23rd, 2009
8:57 am

Rosie, I did check it out, and I’m wrong in thinking that Pre-K teachers must have a 4 year degree; they may have a 2 year degree in early childhood education. However, HeadStart currently only requires that teachers must have a CDA, which can be obtained by taking about 4 classes at a tech college. By 2013, HeadStart teachers must have the same credentials as Georgia Pre-K teachers are now required to have.

It does appear that our Pre-K program has higher standards than HeadStart in terms of teacher training and also curriculum. Whether that does make a difference is difficult to tell without decent research.

Another Ga Pre-K Teacher

September 20th, 2009
6:45 pm

I can tell you by working in a private center that offers Ga. Pre-K that there are too many parents taking advantage of all the money out there being given for child care. Based on their income I am sure– I know too many of my students who are at the center as early as 6:00. I do not get there until 7:30 myself. The same students are still there when I leave at 3:30. Student release time was at 2:30. But, these students are still at the center at 6:00 pm. There seriously needs to be a law about how long a child can be at a center, school or daycare, whatever the place is called. THIS IS WAY TOO LONG to be at a place away from one’s family/home. Letting teachers, daycare workers, center directors/owners raise others’ children. I am SICK of this. I shake my head in disbelief every single day. These kids are obnoxious and tired and fed up with the place, too. They have become numb to the rules of the place and listening is one rule they have forgotten. They are angry and they use the rage by trying to destroy something in the classroom. They see this stuff all too much!! They want to be released from the bondages of the same walls for 12 hours every day!!! 12 hours should be against the law.
A law should be passed that children should only be allowed to be at a school, daycare, center, etc. no longer than 8-hours. Do not let the families be able to call for extra hours like “After School Program”. They are only getting extra money to pay the “ASP” bill.
No more should we as educators be babysitters. We have regular hours and the parents of our students should too.
Plus, The babies I see in my center are here when I get here and still there when I leave, too. Already their parents are setting them up for others to raise them. They will stay in the same center for years! Every worker will have them in each class.
From crib and up. But, these kids are at the centers too long. Some cry all day!!!!!!!!!! Something is wrong here folks. When I am trying to work with my Pre-K kids I here the same crying babies all day long!! Maybe they are drug babies? Something is wrong with their young lives.


October 14th, 2009
3:16 pm

Another Ga Pre-K Teacher: How can you say students can only be in day care 8 hours a day? Not until the US lowers the hours in the work week to less than 40! I work 8 hours a day, and have a 15 minute commute to day care/from day care. If my kids can only be there 8 hours a day, I would only be able to work 7 hours a day, which would put me at less than 40 hours per week. Sure, I believe some parents put their kids in daycare for way longer than they should be, but those “bad” parents are few and far between. Those of us who are loving parents rush to get our kids as soon as we can. I certainly wish I could stay home with my children and they didn’t have to be in school for 8.5 hours per day, but I HAVE to work. I have to feed them, clothe them, and put a loving roof over their heads. Working mothers live with enough guilt, shame on you for putting them down even more.