This is one of the most sensible suggestions I’ve heard in a long time from state government: Gov. Nathan Deal wants to restore some of the days cut from the pre-k program. The state’s compression of its pre-k program led to a exodus of unhappy teachers this year.
Many moved into elementary school openings to dodge the 10-percent, state-ordered pay cut resulting from the abbreviated pre-k calendar.
Earlier, the AJC reported that 57 of 77 pre-kindergarten teachers in Fulton 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. In Decatur City Schools, six of nine pre-k teachers moved out of pre-k. In Clayton, it was 31 out of 32 lead teachers.
The pay cuts were part of Deal’s strategy to reduce pre-k spending by $54 million to compensate for flat-to-declining lottery funds. To accomplish that goal, the state slashed a month off the pre-k school year, eliminating 190 private and 76 public pre-k classes statewide, and increasing class sizes.
Gov. Nathan Deal will propose reinstating 10 of 20 days that were removed from the current pre-k year, said Erin Hames, Deal’s deputy chief of staff for policy. The longer school year — 170 days — will result in a 4.4 percent pay raise for pre-k teachers, Hames said.
Last year, Deal suggested cutting the nationally lauded pre-k program from a full day to half day as part of a plan to ensure the long-term future of it and the popular HOPE scholarship program. Both programs are funded by slowing lottery revenues.
After a public outcry, Deal recommended, and the Legislature approved, shortening the pre-k school year from 180 to 160 days, and adding two students to each pre-k class. Teachers immediately left the program, providers said.
After the shorter school year and related pay cuts were approved, the retention rate for all pre-k teachers went from 81 percent to 75 percent. More dramatic was the turnover of pre-k teachers who work in public schools, with their retention rate falling from 87 percent to 64 percent, according to statistics compiled by Cagle’s office.
Pat Willis, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children, said Deal’s plan to restore 10 days is a welcome step.
“Especially for low-income kids, a full year of program is important for their preparation for kindergarten,” she said.
Hames said the governor will recommend the $7 million cost of adding 10 days be offset by reducing the pre-k slots by 2,000. In the plan approved last year, the governor increased the program’s slots from 84,000 to 86,000. Yet most of those extra slots were not filled, she said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog