Gov. Brian Kemp has asked all state agencies to trim their budgets. That includes the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), the agency that oversees Georgia’s universal pre-kindergarten program. Although DECAL is state-funded, the pre-K program is not. It’s financed through the Georgia lottery. Still, DECAL submitted several budget scenarios to state lawmakers in case lottery revenues sag. One plan would cut the pre-K program by $51 million.
“As you can imagine, there’s no way to reduce a program by $51 million without impacting teachers and students,” DECAL commissioner Amy Jacobs told a state Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee in May. “We are recommending a reduction in the school year by 13 instructional days, eliminate 4,000 pre-K slots. This will mean we will close 180 classrooms throughout the state.”
The proposal would also reduce teacher planning days from ten to four, Jacobs said.
“All of those things are pretty devastating, and the worst part is, we don’t believe any of this is necessary,” says Mindy Binderman, executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS).
Binderman points out that while tax revenues may have dropped during the pandemic, lottery sales have remained strong.
“If we cut Georgia pre-K, those savings are just going into a reserve that is already at $1.2 billion,” she says. “The lottery is very well-funded. We’ve got plenty for a rainy day. We’ve got plenty in reserves.”
Binderman says that means the Georgia Lottery should have enough money to fund the pre-K program even if its sales start to decrease.
“If indeed the pandemic caused lottery proceeds to dip, I would tell you, ‘It’s raining,'” Binderman says. “That’s why you have a rainy day reserve.”
State lawmakers will need to decide whether to approve the cuts soon. The legislature reconvenes this week and is supposed to pass a budget before the new fiscal year begins in July.