The pre-k lobby is stronger than I thought. Gov. Nathan Deal just reversed his plan to cut the pre-kindergarten program from full-time to part-time, a decision that affected the 84,000 kids in the program and had some parents planning to resort to all-day child care instead.
The governor’s original plan also created despair among early childhood educators, who felt that quality pre-k was critical to Georgia’s aspirations to improve its education system.
“From day one we have worked tirelessly to make sure Georgia’s youngest scholars continue to benefit from the Pre-K program,” said Deal. “It is so important that we keep Georgia Pre-K a priority in order to ensure that students are school ready and on pace to read on grade level by third grade.”
Under Deal’s new plan:
I still wonder about the resistance to limiting pre-k to low-income families. My twins attended state pre-k, which was offered through my school system. But I would have continued them in their good church pre-k had there not been a free option at my local public school.
So, I ask: Should the state have focused on keeping a full-year, full-day for the children whose parents had no other options rather than shrink the school year for all pre-k students?
Instead, Deal said he’ll meet the objective of slashing millions of dollars in program spending by cutting the pre-k year from 180 days to 160 days. He’ll still expand pre-k enrollment, but by 2,000, not 5,000 students as first proposed two weeks ago.
“We’ve done a lot of listening over the last two weeks to everybody from public providers, private providers and pre-k teachers,” Erin Hames, Deal’s deputy chief of staff, said shortly before the governor’s news conference. “The greatest concern they all have is with the half-day program. ”
Lopping 20 days off the calendar — which by staff estimates will save about $21 million — in different economic times might seem extreme. But the k-12 school year calendar has already been cut in many school districts — in some cases by 20 or more days — due to the extended economic slump.
But the plan for pre-k, mainly cutting the school day from 6.5 hours to 4 hours, found critics in every camp – lawmakers, advocates, teachers and parents.
Advocates said a shortened day would go against the national trend and research, showing pre-k helps children be ready for school and can curb the dropout rates and the number of children requiring costly special education services. They also argued that quality teachers would flee the program for full-time employment and that parents, particularly in low-income families, would be overburdened with after-school costs.
Under the governor’s revised plan, pre-k will remain a 6.5 hour a day program and will expand to include an extra 2,000 4-year-olds in the fall.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog