As we discussed here last week, pre-k took a major hit this year due to the reduction in the length of program by the governor, which resulted in lower pay for certified teachers.
As a result, many of those teachers sought and accepted jobs in k-8, which did not suffer the same cut.
Here is an AJC story that cites how those reductions to Georgia’s pre-k, once considered a national model, caused teachers to flee.
Teachers this year left pre-k programs in droves, moving into elementary school openings to avoid a 10-percent, state-ordered pay cut that’s just kicked in.
In Fulton County, 57 of 77 pre-kindergarten teachers quit between the last school year and the current one. Some left the system for other careers, while 47 moved into teaching jobs in kindergarten through fifth grade, where salaries aren’t tied to the Georgia Lottery’s success.
“Prior to all the budget cuts, we retained about 70 to 75 percent of our teachers,” said Montreal Gore Bell, Fulton’s coordinator of early childhood and remedial programs. “Now, we’ve pretty much flip-flopped.”
In Decatur City Schools, six of nine pre-k teachers left. In Clayton, it was 31 out of 32 lead teachers.
“Georgia’s reputation as an early childhood leader is tarnished,” said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, which produces an annual report rating the nation’s pre-k programs.
“If the best teachers leave, quality will suffer and the benefits will be eroded,” Barnett said. “Serving more children less effectively is no recipe for success.”
Louisa Melton, pre-k coordinator for the Griffin-Spalding County school system, said morale has “definitely hit bottom.
“We lost three excellent pre-k teachers to K-3 positions,” she said. “Most others requested transfers but were not given them.”
The pay cuts are part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to reduce pre-k spending by $54 million this year, to $341.7 million, to help cope with flat-to-declining lottery funds. Deal took similar steps to ensure the long-term viability of the HOPE scholarship program, which, like free pre-k, has run off lottery revenue since inception.
For pre-k, that meant lopping a month off the school year, eliminating 190 private and 76 public pre-k classes statewide, and increasing class sizes to make room for an extra 2,000 4-year-olds, or a total of 86,000.
Those cuts were generally deemed a better alternative to Deal’s original proposal to take the program from full- to part-time.
For Sheltering Arms Early Education & Family Centers, the cuts mean $1.3 million fewer state dollars. The company, which offers 46 pre-k classes to 824 4-year-olds in metro Atlanta, was forced to close a center in Rockdale County that had served 90 children a day since 1975, said Paige McKay Kubik, vice president for development and communications.
Some school districts, including DeKalb, came up with local money to keep their pre-k programs at 10 months, and to preserve teacher salaries.
But Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said he doubts that can continue.
“In most of those cases, that was a one-year stop gap,” he said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog