Pre-K Saving State Millions, But Might Not Be Enough

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March 1, 2011; Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution | The state of Georgia is reaping significant dividends from a pre-kindergarten program, according to a study released this week from the Southern Education Foundation. Despite what's being called "good news for Georgia," the program faces serious cutbacks in the face of declining or flat lottery revenues that fund the program.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the study shows that due to the program, fewer students are being held back a grade, dropping out of school. or being placed in special education classes. The savings to the state from just preventing students from repeating classes – some 10,000 annually on average – came to $35.6 million in 2010, and that total could grow to $212.9 million over the next six calendar years. Steve Suitts, vice president of the foundation, which has been advocating for education for more than 150 years, said no other program in Georgia is "as effective and efficient for taxpayers."

Last week, and before the release of the study, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal proposed reducing the number of hours for pre-k instruction to 4 from 6.5 hours a day. Cutting the program from full- to part-time is estimated to save $54 million. A spokesman for the governor claims the cutback is actually meant to save the program. In addition, he says some of the savings would allow the state to expand the program to serve some 5,000 more students. Currently it enrolls 84,000 4-year-olds, with another 10,000 on a waiting list.

Although authors of the study say Georgia appears to be moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the country—extending the hours pre-k programs operate—the newspaper reports they did not ask the governor to reconsider his plan. Maybe the governor's proposal for pre-k was premature?—Bruce Trachtenberg