Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

February 14, 2013

Obama puts Georgia’s pre-K program in spotlight

ATLANTA — President Barack Obama singled out Georgia’s early childhood education program in his State of the Union address, but the state has stumbled to meet its goal of enrolling every child in pre-K since it made that a priority two decades ago.

Obama was set to visit an early childhood learning center near Atlanta on Thursday, perhaps to make a case for the benefits of universal pre-K, an initiative the president said could help reduce teen pregnancy, violent crime and lead to more students graduating from high school. A closer look at Georgia’s program, however, reveals a lot of challenges.

Georgia made a commitment to universal pre-K in 1995 and it’s been a slow climb, with about 60 percent of eligible children currently enrolled. And Georgia’s high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation.

“While we’re proud of our pre-K program, it really needs to be expanded so we’re reaching all of our children,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the largest professional teacher organization in the state. “It’s a matter of funding. There’s just not enough slots to meet the complete need our state has.”

The president plans to visit the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, which is considered a success. It has about 350 students, ranging in age from 6-weeks-old to 5-years-old.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance,” Obama said in his speech.

The Georgia school is in Decatur, which is just east of Atlanta and home to many college professors and other highly educated professionals who place great value on education. Many move there specifically for the city’s relatively strong schools.

In surrounding DeKalb County, however, the story is different. The county school system is in danger of losing accreditation for what one official described as “conflict and chaos.” Other school systems in the area have struggled as well.

Atlanta Public Schools were rocked by a standardized test cheating scandal several years ago and the school system in nearby Clayton County had its accreditation revoked in 2009, though it has since been restored. The K-12 system statewide has seen repeated budget cuts and some districts have resorted to teacher furloughs.

About 60 percent of the state’s students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch and 25 percent live in abject poverty, which also has an impact on both pre-K enrollment and future educational success, Callahan said.

“Those children need (pre-K) the most and sometimes they come from family situations where those families are less able to navigate the application process, they’re less aware of what’s going on in these kinds of programs and less likely to take advantage of them,” he said.

The state’s pre-K program currently enrolls about 84,000 students, and about 8,000 children are on a waiting list, said Reg Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. Some other eligible children may be enrolled in private pre-K programs, he said.

Georgia’s pre-K program began with a pilot program for at-risk kids in 1992 and was opened to all eligible 4-year-olds in 1995.  It has been funded by the state lottery system since the start, but as lottery revenues decreased in recent years, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators have had to make cuts.  

The program was shortened by 20 days in 2011, though Deal got lawmakers to restore 10 of those days last year and has proposed adding back the other 10 in his current budget proposal.

The program currently gets about 34 percent of the state lottery money, with the rest going to the HOPE scholarship fund to help qualifying Georgia students attend college. The pre-K program’s budget in the current fiscal year is $298 million.

The Georgia Department of Early Care recently researched whether pre-K students showed signs of doing better in kindergarten, the first such study in the program’s history, Griffin said.

“We were really pleased that across the board the program was preparing students for kindergarten and placing them on a trajectory toward success in K-12 and beyond that to college and career,” he said.

But only about 67 percent of high school students graduate in Georgia, ahead of only two other states and the District of Columbia, according to U.S. Department of Education figures.

Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, plans to be in Georgia for the president’s appearance. He doesn’t have details but he expects the president’s initiative to include matching federal funding to help increase participation in early childhood learning programs.

With its pre-K framework and commitment already in place, a state like Georgia would be in a prime position to benefit and could easily get to 90 percent enrollment within a few years, Barnett said.

“If the federal government steps up and offers matching funds, can they make it possible for Georgia to actually serve all the kids? For me, that’s why Georgia’s a great example,” he said. “You have the expressed will to do this. You have some pretty good standards in place.”

 

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Palestinian rivals to try again for unity deal

    Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah agreed Wednesday to form a unity government and hold new elections — a potentially historic step toward mending the rift that has split their people between two sets of rulers for seven years.

    April 24, 2014

  • Obama administration weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Obama administration is encouraging many nonviolent federal prisoners to apply for early release — and expecting thousands to take up the offer.

    April 24, 2014

  • Earns Facebook_Stew.jpg Facebook 1Q results soar; CFO to step down

    Facebook’s earnings nearly tripled and revenue grew sharply in the first quarter, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations thanks to an 82 percent increase in advertising revenue.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Georgia Gun Bill_Stew.jpg Gun carry rights expanded in Ga. under new law

    Criticized by one group as the “guns everywhere” bill, Georgia took a big step Wednesday toward expanding where licensed carriers can take their weapons, with the governor signing a law that allows them in bars without restriction and in some churches, schools and government buildings under certain circumstances.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Clemson Spring Game F_Stew.jpg Clemson’s Swinney won’t change after complaint

    Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday he wouldn’t change procedures after the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter of complaint expressing concerns about the football program’s connection to the coach’s Christian religion.

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1800, Congress approved a bill establishing the Library of Congress.

    April 24, 2014

  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results