There has been only scant attention to the cuts to pre-k proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal. Pre-k is also funded by the Georgia Lottery and is in line for serious cuts. Deal is proposing to slash the school day to four hours. (A new study released today affirms the value of pre-k to the state.)
Here is an op-ed from Alan Essig, the executive director for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, on why the cuts to pre-k are a bad idea for the state:
By Alan Essig
No one can argue that Georgia’s prized lottery-funded HOPE program is in desperate need of reform—the structural deficit demands it. Unfortunately, current debate regarding reforming HOPE tends to ask the wrong questions. The conversation has been preoccupied with preserving the HOPE Scholarship as much as possible in its existing form. But is this the best educational investment for Georgia?
Instead of focusing on how to maintain HOPE, we should ask ourselves how to get the greatest educational bang for our lottery dollars. Georgia will be better served by prioritizing its limited lottery dollar investments in pre-K and the technical college system, first, and HOPE scholarships, second.
Everyone gains from a better educated workforce, and that starts in pre-K. Georgia must continue to invest in the pre-K program to ensure that our youth enter kindergarten with the critical cognitive and social skills necessary for a lifetime of learning and development. What end goals are we really attempting to achieve by cutting the number of pre-K hours by one-third? Research shows that for every $1 invested in early education, $7 in benefits are realized. Thus, prioritizing quality pre-K programs – particularly for at-risk youth – serves as a valuable asset on the front-end of our K-20 education pipeline. At a time when we seek opportunities to reduce costs in K-12 education and simultaneously increase student achievement, investing in pre-K presents an ideal opportunity to do so early in the learning process.
Likewise, investing in technical colleges allows Georgians to stay agile in a rapidly, ever-changing world. The state has been a national model for providing broad access to technical colleges through HOPE grants, which has allowed Georgia to create one of the top technical college systems in the nation. Broad access to technical colleges allows low-skilled workers an opportunity to remain viable job candidates and to provide businesses with a readily-available, trained workforce—a critical asset for companies looking to expand or relocate. It is indeed likely that restricting access to technical colleges will result in undesirable outcomes for economic growth and economic security in Georgia.
In addition to investing in pre-K programs and HOPE grants, real reform must take a pragmatic approach to the HOPE scholarship. To obtain the biggest educational bang for the lottery dollar, the Hope Scholarship must be focused on those who can least afford a college education. Georgia gains little when lottery dollars subsidize the tuition of students whose families can afford to pay for their college education. Placing an income cap of $100,000 on Hope Scholarship eligibility would allow lottery funds to go to those who will most benefit by the investment, and to help ensure that funds are available for investment in pre-K and technical schools.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. In order to get something one likes, one must be willing to give up something in return. Reforming how we spend lottery funds does not escape this core economic principle.
The late American author Mark Twain stated, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” As we implement fundamental reform to the HOPE program, we must bear in mind the impact of those decisions on the future opportunities for our youth and our economy. Twenty years from now, we don’t want to be left asking ourselves “what were we thinking”.
–From Maureen Downey and the AJC Get Schooled blog