Dickens outlines plan for Atlanta's $20 million early education investment

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has proposed a $20 million dollar investment in childcare in the city. (Jonathon Kelso)

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is planning a $20 million investment in early education. He first publicly mentioned the plan in his “State of the City” address in April.

The money will go toward refurbishing childcare centers, subsidies to help families afford childcare and bonuses for teachers.

During an appearance on WABE’s “Closer Look” with host Rose Scott, Dickens said a lot of Atlanta’s childcare facilities haven’t been able to afford necessary repairs through the years.

“To get them up to par, we’re asking those childcare centers, particularly on the southside of town a lot of disinvested places, come to us and we’ll give you grants to improve and modernize,” he said.

The average monthly cost of childcare in Georgia is about $1,000 per child. Courtney English, the mayor’s senior policy advisor, said that’s too high for a lot of families.

“There are about 13,000 families in and around the city of Atlanta that are either cost-burdened — they’re paying well over 40% of their income towards childcare services, that’s way, way too high — or they don’t have access to any kind of program simply because they can’t get there, they can’t afford it,” he said.

Curbing costs for families is a priority, English said, because access to quality childcare is essential for children’s development.

“The majority of a child’s brain develops by the time they turn eight years old, and so those early years from 0-3, 0-5 are 1000% critical in putting them on the right track to learn how to read, to learn how to process information, to learn how to communicate with their peers,” he said. “That’s why early education is so important.”

The mayor’s plan includes a $5 million investment from the city; another $5 million from Atlanta Public Schools; and $10 million from the private sector, half of which has already been donated by the Whitehead Foundation. English says more details will be released once the city and APS complete their budgets.

In 2017, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce released a report showing a lack of access to childcare cost Atlanta businesses $1.75 billion annually and $105 million in lost tax revenue.

In response to Dickens’ announcement, Stephanie Blank, the board chair for the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) said in a statement, “Childcare and preschool programs are integral to Atlanta’s economy, and this public-private investment sets an example for communities across America.”