Should pre-k be limited to low-income families in Georgia?

Georgia may cut its much admired pre-k program.  AJC photo.

Georgia may cut its much admired pre-k program. AJC photo.

Georgia is at risk of losing its national reputation as a leader in early childhood education with a proposal to cut nearly $20 million from the pre-k program, which  rules out any expansion of the popular program.

Georgia was considered the national leader when it introduced universal pre-k in 1995, but that initial momentum has slowed. Today, about 53 percent of the state’s eligible 4-year-olds are enrolled in lottery-financed pre-k classes, either in public or private schools. In contrast, Oklahoma has 70 percent of its 4-year-olds enrolled in its public pre-k.

Emerging research on brain development in toddlers and preschoolers led then-Gov. Zell Miller and Georgia to become pioneers in early child education, using lottery proceeds to pay for universal prekindergarten. (The state also funds its HOPE Scholarships through the lottery.)

However, the state has failed to build on that momentum, stalling on plans to greatly expand access in areas where they are waiting lists for slots. There has also been a long campaign by some intown lawmakers to introduce classes for low-income 3-year-olds, whose parents lack the resources to expose them to rich learning environments.

According to research, poor children benefit most from programs that emphasize school readiness and language development. Such early intervention can close the gaps that prevent low-income children from being able to read at third grade.

But there are some lawmakers who still maintain that the state should not be providing what they deem to be free day- care. Supporters counter that if the state doesn’t reach out to these children at age 3 and 4, it will lose them at age 16 or 17, when they are more likely to drop out of high school.

As with HOPE, the budget crisis is forcing hard questions, including whether we should limit pre-k to low-income kids. There is research that preschool has less academic benefit for children from higher income households, likely because those parents provide enrichment for their children in the home.

According to the AJC:

Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing to cut nearly $20 million from the pre-k program this year, and Georgia taxpayers face a difficult question: Can they afford free pre-k for every kid in the state?Rick Dent, a political strategist who was at then-Gov. Zell Miller’s side when plans for Georgia’s pre-k program were being formulated, says it’s decision-making time.

“We’ve dropped from pioneer and national leader to average, so Georgians must decide: Do we invest more money in providing top-quality universal pre-k or do we only provide top-quality pre-k to those students who need it most? Anything in between fails every 4-year-old.”

Lawmakers are mulling several potential options for ensuring the long-term viability, not only of pre-k, but also the arguably more popular HOPE scholarship program that the lottery also funds. Making it even more challenging, they know votes are likely won or lost with each scholarship that’s awarded or cut and each pre-kindergarten slot that opens up or is eliminated.

–By Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

78 comments Add your comment

not for nothing

February 2nd, 2011
12:29 pm

I know there seems to be a benchmark for getting kids to read by third grade,but why is the responsibility solely on pre-k to make that happen? Where are the targeted programs to help students in first and/or second grade to reach that benchmark? Of course, this seems to also tap into the idea of social promotion. Why can’t we just say if you cannot read x amount by third grade, you DON’T PASS and MOVE ON TO THIRD?


February 2nd, 2011
12:47 pm

How about sliding scale tuition based on income?


February 2nd, 2011
1:07 pm

@clueless: how about that would cost so much money to administer. Any of these kind of proposals would ‘cost’ as much as they ’save.’

One way to serve more lower income families – without going to too much administrative costs – would be to just open up slots in ‘lower income’ areas. And/or ‘take away’ slots from areas that are ‘higher income.’ And/or have more slots where schools are underperforming, and have fewer slots where schools are doing well.
You’re not going to ‘only’ serve those who need it, but the administration could be much much less than having applications, verifying incomes, sliding scales, etc etc.

high school teacher

February 2nd, 2011
1:13 pm

Several points to share for discussion:

1) Since Pre-K has been around since the early 90’s we can do a longitudinal study. It would be interesting to see if high school dropouts from the last few years attended Pre-K.

2) The quality of a public school Pre-K is higher than some of the private Pre-K programs.

3) You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. If the money’s not there, it’s not there.

4) What’s “high income?”


February 2nd, 2011
1:14 pm

While the idea to only offer free progams to lower income families sounds great (as does free and reduced lunch), what I have seen from my years as a public school teacher is that it will just increase the numbers of people who lie on the applications.


February 2nd, 2011
1:24 pm

Do teachers count as “low income”? If it is limited, you cannot require it and teachers wil not be able to afford it. Neither will most of the middle class. It should be open to anyone.

David Sims

February 2nd, 2011
1:25 pm

Define “rich learning environment” please.


February 2nd, 2011
1:30 pm

84,000 kids x $238/kid = $20million

$238/9months = $27/month per kid paid by the parents.

Problem solved.

Former PK Teacher

February 2nd, 2011
1:41 pm

I can tell them how to save money with the Pre-K program. Get rid of the consultants that “check” each school, and put the classrooms under local/state control just like every other classroom in GA. One (of the 37 positions) makes $82,858 in salary and driving expenses. That is $3,065,746 if hers is average, and that is not including benefits or retirement. Get rid of the “governers book” that each child in Pre-K gets, get rid of the monthly newsletters that no one pays attention to, and get rid of all of the positions that do all these things. I’m sure the money can be found without affecting a single classroom!

What if

February 2nd, 2011
1:48 pm

What we KNOW about age 3- and 4-year old experience is this: TWO years of experience (starting at 3) is effective in reducing grade retention, increasing graduation, reducing adjudicated criminal behavior as juveniles and as adults, and increasing employment as adults ONLY for very low income, low functioning children when provided ONLY with very specific curriculum delivered by highly trained and closely monitored teachers. While many private and public programs likely provide appropriate curriculum, it is highly unlikely that the bulk of programs that use high school or associate degree individuals with little guidance or training provide impact beyond convenient daycare. WE DO NOT know whether ONE year of even well-conducted PreK provides positive long term impact either for middle or high income “normal” children, much less highly disadvantaged students. It is likely that the daycare provided has substantial economic benefit for the state, but it is far less assured that there are significant measurable cognitive or behavioral benefits for the majority of students from Georgia’s underfunded 4-year-old programs. If daycare for working parents (inlcuding teachers) is the objective, then we should fund as many as possible for the lowest but safest cost possible. If the objective is to increase graduation and employment and reduce crime, then the program should be re-oriented to PROPERLY serve children from very low income families.

the prof

February 2nd, 2011
1:58 pm

Not another handout….equal for all!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laura White and Root Cause, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: Should pre-k be limited to low-income families in Georgia? [...]

[...] See the full article here. [...]

Just Wondering

February 2nd, 2011
2:10 pm

@the prof. We all need to be equal first.

@ David Sims – See NAEYC accredited centers. The gold standard. Do a search for Atlanta and look at the map. That will tell you a lot.

@atlmom – That’s good thinking.


February 2nd, 2011
2:19 pm

@What if–cite your sources please.

From my understanding, the data on pre-k not consistent, and nobody can argue that pre-k does any harm. Here’s a good source about the benefits of pre-k. Note that it cites numerous studies:

The most important stat to note is this:
Every $1 spent on pre-k programs saves taxpayers up to $7 later on (in court fees, educational costs from repeated classes, incarceration costs, etc).

So, you can pay a little now, or a lot later. J

Warrior Woman

February 2nd, 2011
2:21 pm

In times of budget crunch, lottery-supported pre-K should be limited to low and moderate income students. This is where most of the benefit comes from pre-K. Middle and upper income households can afford to provide their own pre-K, either at home or through paying themselves.

Second, the focus should be on programs that are offered through public schools or are NAEYC accredited to help overcome the problems with some state-supported pre-K being no better than babysitting.

@atlmom – Great idea! @ak_cov – Why not require income verification?


February 2nd, 2011
2:36 pm

If you turn this into another WELFARE program then popularity will fall threw the floor and the program will go away. We did not vote for the lottery to give the unemployed another handout.


February 2nd, 2011
2:56 pm

Booklover: I tell that to people all the time! We can pay for schools now, or prisons later (even if it’s the same money, why would you want that kind of society?) – you choose! :)


February 2nd, 2011
3:17 pm

I still do not understand the logic behind cutting pre-K funding when there are many children that have been proven to benefit from this program. On the other hand we will continue to allow our high school children think that by “earning” a 3.0 average they are somehow qualified to have a free ride to the state school of their choice for at least 4 years – maybe 5 or 6!! When I was in high school I had to work very hard to earn the scholarships that I was awarded and my grade point average was a lot higher than 3.0 to qualify. I also had to maintain a higher GPA in college to keep those scholarships. I also had to be finished in 4 years – I did not have the luxury to take a lighter course load so that my grades could stay high. I had to work hard every semester. College is not a right, it is something that should be earned through hard work and effort. If we took a look at this HOPE scholarship I am sure that the money could be pulled from there much easier than pulling it from our pre-K program. Stop inflating students’ grades for just showing up, and have them actually have to earn them!! Also demand that they finish their college course load in 4 years – there should not be as much of a need for them to work during the school year if their tuition is totally paid for – right?? That could begin the process of adding money back in the states’ education coffers tomorrow!!


February 2nd, 2011
3:23 pm

In a country where there is supposed equal opportunity for all – no way? Even the most liberal of liberals out there couldn’t possibly support that ….. could they?

Current Teaching

February 2nd, 2011
3:24 pm

This is to Former PK Teacher: HALLELUJAH!! HALLELUJAH!! Somebody with some actual brains from somewhere else is actually telling them how to save a wad of money. PEOPLE! LISTEN TO THIS WOMAN! We teacher are screaming at you!!!! We know what we are doing in our classrooms without this SO CALLED “CONSULTANTS” TELLING US WHAT TO DO! They are wasting state money riding around Georgia popping in and our of our classrooms, wasting your gas, for what??? To tell us what to do better, so they can go make a longer, lengthy, detailed lesson plan?? or maybe some more outside training to do at home???? Yes, GEORGIANS, WE are loaded down by consultants who ride around on your state dime popping and out of our classrooms riding all over Georgia’s great land when they should be in a classroom themselves. Leave us alone!!!!!!!!!!!! LET US TEACH THE CHILDREN OF Georgia!!!!


February 2nd, 2011
3:28 pm

@Frustratedmomof3: HOPE is kinda popular and the politicians don’t want to listen to ANYTHING that might make it a better program.

What if

February 2nd, 2011
3:38 pm

@Booklover, same research you read, primary source the original and still in operation Perry Preschool study. Which is where economist Steve Barnett’s $7 to $1 figure came from, speaking of sources. One-year daycare for all does not get us the $7. ONLY carefully run programs with highly trained real teachers save the $7 ONLY for underpriveledged children. I am NOT arguing daycare does harm, in fact it seems quite likely it’s an excellent resource for working parents and hence from that perspective Gerogia’s programs are a worthy resource for the Georgia economy. I’m simply referencing the research that shows fairly convincingly that high quality (to borrow High/Scope’s term) two-year preschool is of significant benefit to low-income children. We DO NOT have evidence that suggests similar benefit for one-year programs for middle an upper income children. If we want the societal benefit of the programs for children, what we know works are high quality (again, the High/Scope definition, not the federal “HiQ” definition of teacher) two-year programs for low-income children. I’m FINE with daycare, I’m just suggesting we be honest with ourselves about it.

What if

February 2nd, 2011
3:39 pm

oops, looks like I created a new state – - -

one second

February 2nd, 2011
3:42 pm

free daycare basically what it amounts to. Headstart, preK, whatever name you want to call it; until we have parents that are willingly to educate and are worried about their childrens education will minorities and others be on equal footing

What's best for kids?

February 2nd, 2011
3:43 pm

If Governor Deal would trim some fat from his own budget, he may be able to afford some well-needed educational funding for all students in Georgia instead of his staff.

So he wants to cut education, but line the pockets of the people who “helped him out” Nice.


February 2nd, 2011
3:45 pm

one second: it’s not ‘free daycare’ – one of my sons was in the GA PreK program. The teachers were fantastic. Wonderful. Could not say enough great things about them. Truly.

re: what’s best for kids: no question about it. But what did we expect from him? Realistically – the lottery money is tapped for HOPE and PreK – that’s it. So if there’s less money in that pile, then there’s less money for the programs, no matter what the rest of the budget looks like. So, even if Deal spent less on his staff, there wouldn’t be more for PreK. That’s one issue I have with ‘directed funds.’


February 2nd, 2011
3:46 pm

@ atlmom – I agree – that is the sad plight of politicians everywhere today – they are only concerned with their party and staying in power – never mind what their constituency who voted them in would like to see happen. What a broken system!!

What's best for kids?

February 2nd, 2011
3:47 pm

“For the 2012 budget year that begins July 1, Deal’s office budget would grow by almost $6 million.”

Just Wondering

February 2nd, 2011
3:48 pm

@What if – The lottery only covers Pre-K for 4-5 year olds, not day care. The problem is most do not know the difference. Another point, visit NAEYC and look at a map of Atlanta’s nationally accredited early childhood programs. Upper income children have access, its the children in lower income neighborhoods that do not.


February 2nd, 2011
3:52 pm

@current teaching

and if i hear ONE more thing about what should be on a WORD wall. i think i will put someone against it ; lol


February 2nd, 2011
4:43 pm

The neediest preschoolers in our rural county never make it to PreK….why? Because the parents have to provide transportation. Some are unable and some won’t. When 4 year olds were allowed to ride the school bus, the lowest income bracket had a higher participation rate.

Top School

February 2nd, 2011
4:57 pm

@ Current Teaching…

Deal has all the money needed to run this program…it is hidden in the salaries of all those furthest from the classroom.

Cut class size…get rid of the upper administration…and the politics.
Leave Governor Deal and the upper administration of any public school in a classroom of pre-k children for a week…THEY WILL FIND A TEACHER AND THE MONEY TO PAY WILL MAGICALLY APPEAR!


February 2nd, 2011
4:59 pm

Hard to see how 4 year olds can be counted as “unemployed” and therefore unworthy but a lot easier to see how 18-22 year olds can be expected to be responsible for their own achievements–in other words, save the money by limiting HOPE to high-performing students.


February 2nd, 2011
5:15 pm

Yeah let’s invest in low-income people whose kids will end up in gangs anyhow.

Why should we provide services to people who can save money for a better university or other activities?


February 2nd, 2011
5:58 pm

PreK cuts would be a huge step backwards for our state. Plenty of research indicating the need for high quality instruction beginning at 3 makes a huge difference in literacy. The logic being used to decide to make cuts to PreK vs HOPE is seriously lacking credibility. HOPE has become a middle class entitlement and there is no doubt the political fallout would be harsh and quick.

the prof

February 2nd, 2011
7:08 pm

sorry, but from my perspective, I don’t see underprivileged, I see undereffort.

What if

February 2nd, 2011
7:15 pm

Just wondering, when not done according to what we know works, it is nothing more than daycare. We may CALL it program, but if the program does not follow the known effective curricula with highly trained teachers, it is no different IN EFFECT from daycare. I well imagine that there are both private and public school programs that are superb. but there are no standards or monitoring to ensure that all of them are so, and according to what we know it is extremely unlikely that those programs using high school and 2-year grads have any impact beyond what would be afforded by daycare. Read the research, including the work by Steve Barnett at NIEER at Rutgers.

What if

February 2nd, 2011
7:19 pm

Tony, I certainly agree with that one. I’ve been trying to make points from my fairly long involvement with early childhood research including time with the likes of Barnett, but the ultimate outcome will be based on nothing more than politics, self interest and emotion, not judicious decision based on factual infomration. the prof: if you only see under-effort on the part of some hungry 4-year old, you’re no prof.

Nonsense, APS is Total Atlanta

February 2nd, 2011
7:34 pm

Thank you Angus. Common sense is required.
Two suggestions:
If you cannot pay for your child $ 27.00, then perhaps you should have discussed a budget with your spouse , Oh, whoops, that is where I am wrong, in Ga, it is so much more popular to not have a spouse, but you should have either discussed a budget or birth control before you ask me to give up my pre k, just because I work and also read to my child at home from the time they are in the womb

Second suggestion if you dont understand how to use birth control, let the state seperate religion from state and pass Sunday liquor sales and use some of that revenue


February 2nd, 2011
8:31 pm

@Tony: the purpose of HOPE is to keep the best and brightest students in GA. I believe that goal has been accomplished. Start taking it away – and see students leave GA and never come back.
Something *good* that happened – that really wasn’t completely expected, but should have been seen – is that the universities in GA are now top notch because so many good students are staying here – that they are becoming fantastic high class universities.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

February 2nd, 2011
8:33 pm

Has pre-K’s efficacy in promoting lasting improvements in the academic and social skills of participating children been recently determined by a competent, out-of-state evaluator?

Maureen Downey

February 2nd, 2011
8:40 pm

@Dr.Spinks, Not sure we are charting the efficacy any longer since Gary Henry left for NC, Maureen

Nonsense, APS is Total Atlanta

February 2nd, 2011
8:43 pm

So Tony, why don t we cancel hope for all lower income students that have benefited from it and give them pre k instead????


February 2nd, 2011
9:02 pm

The problem that I have with this program is that IT IS NOT offered to all. My district elementary school had 20 slots for pre-k. TWENTY!!! How ridiculous is that?

I say cut the whole thing out.


February 2nd, 2011
9:09 pm

Pre-K was designed to help low-income students catch up and get ready for school. It’s morphed into a “free daycare for all” program in many cases. It’s rather annoying hearing the middle and high income parents complain that their children didn’t learn anything in preschool — that’s because preschool was not designed for their children!

I don’t know what the administrative costs would be, but pre-K (babysitting PLUS instruction) should be more expensive than plain old daycare, and the parents who can and wish to pay for it should. If they don’t want to pay the extra money, they can choose an “old-fashioned” daycare without instruction, or perhaps the private sector will provide pre-k programs more to their tastes.


February 2nd, 2011
9:12 pm

Dr. Craig, evaluation would be interesting, especially since there seems to be variation in pre-K programs and instructors throughout the state. If I understand correctly some instructors are certified teachers, and some only have associates degrees or tech school certificates.


February 2nd, 2011
9:26 pm

To clarify my 9:09 post, the lower income children for whom pre-k was designed should be able to attend for free.

There is no proven benefit for higher-income children, and unless research can prove a cost benefit, their parents should pay tuition.


February 2nd, 2011
9:52 pm

I would MUCH rather my kids have help from HOPE on the college end than the preschool end, if it is a choice between the two- preschool is a much cheaper option!

Also , Im sure I am not who the program is aimed at, but neither of my children went to pre-school. I read to them and work a few minutes a day on numbers and letters and what-not. Not a lot of time, and nothing forced upon them. ( we listen to a lot of ‘Dr. Jean’ cds in the car! :) ) The oldest was able to read and write before entering kindergarten and the 3 year old can can currently write his name and count quite high, among other pre-school skills. Throw in regular playdates with other kids and I just dont see the need to send them. The point of saying all of that is that, IMO, it takes so little overall time and effort to impart the knowledge a 4 year old needs that I really dont understand why MOST people cant do it themselves? Do we really need a ton of $ used in this area when there are so many other areas that need it?

(By the way, Im not knocking pre-schools. The kindergarten that my daughter went to was at a church pre-school and it was a wonderful place- full of love and learning. Just saying though that if you dont want/have the $ to spend, it seems as if this is something that can be done easily at home and the $ saved for other school options down the road…….)

I Really do Teach!

February 2nd, 2011
9:53 pm

To: What If? I am a PreK teacher, and we do have standards, quite a lot of them actually. I teach in a public school environment. My lesson plans (7 page document) are turned in weekly. They are tied specifically to the standards. I do agree whole heartedly with the comments around the consultants whose job is actually to come into our classrooms looking for things that are wrong as opposed to those that are right. It is a huge waste of monies.The focus is not on the teaching, but whether the paperwork is correctly done and labels are adhered to the countertops, that the correct # of literacy props are evident, that there is evidence the sensory table is being rotated six different times throughout the year, etc. Believe me there are quite a few more rules and regulations that would boggle the mind of most. This is my second year in PreK after about 30 other years in other grade areas over my numerous years and experiences as a public school teacher and I have never experienced the pressure of maintaining paperwork requirements as I currently do. The assessment procedures are quite time consuming, but I do believe are probably more valid than the CRCT and tests of a similar nature. I am with children from 7:30 in the morning until they leave at 3:15ish each day which includes my lunch as PreK students must have 2 adults with them all throughout the day except during their nap. Now, yes a lot of people look at PreK as a babysitting service, which I totally find disrespectful. Come into one of our classrooms and really see what is going on. I understand the reasoning behind thinking the program should focus only on the lower income, but I find my students benefit from the exposure to students who come to school with more readiness skills. The growth can be quite inspiring. I agree the HOPE should be for students who really need it. This means kids whose families really can not afford the cost of a college education. It means students who worked hard in high school proving they have the focus to work hard in a college environment. It should not fund students in private institutions. It should require students maintain a higher grade point averages. I worked my way through college, I received grants and scholarships after I proved I could maintain grade point averages. College is a commitment on the part of the learner, not a right.