Report: Ga. Lawmakers Should Put More Money Toward Pre-K Program

A new report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute says state lawmakers should allocate more money toward the Pre-Kindergarten program.

Kaitlin Kolarik / for WABE

A new analysis of Georgia’s public Pre-Kindergarten program shows several providers would benefit from more state funding. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) surveyed 38% of the state’s Pre-K directors.

“We wanted to get the perspectives of those implementing this program on how they interact with funding,” says Stephen Owens, a senior policy analyst with GBPI who authored the report. “Is it adequate? Is it covering all their needs in order to set students up for kindergarten?”

48% of the survey’s respondents said they don’t receive enough money from the state to implement high-quality programs. 32% said state funding is sufficient.

Evening the Playing Field

GBPI says state lawmakers should increase funding to the program, centered around raising salaries for lead and assistant teachers and covering some capital improvements. Owens recommends placing state-certified Pre-K teachers on the same salary schedule as K-12 teachers.

“This was something that was brought up by a lot of program directors,” he says. “They end up losing beloved teachers to the public school system to go teach maybe one grade higher for Kindergarten classes.”

That was exactly what happened to Audrey Walters. She runs the Pre-K program in the Montgomery County Schools in Southeast Georgia.

“She was my absolute best teacher,” Walters says. “She held on waiting a couple of years for [the state] to make the adjustments that were needed to retain her. She finally just couldn’t hold on anymore.”

That teacher took a job teaching Kindergarten, where she could earn more money Walters says.

The Pre-K program is funded by the Georgia lottery and is run by the state Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL). The K-12 system is funded mostly by the state funding formula (QBE) and local tax revenues in addition to some federal funding through the Title I program.

The state has a base salary schedule for K-12 teachers. Districts often supplement that. The Pre-K program has a separate salary schedule. Some Georgia school districts, like DeKalb for example, have placed Pre-K teachers on the same salary schedule as K-12 teachers. Others, like Fulton, supplement what the state pays. But the Pre-K program is a mixed delivery system, meaning not all classes are offered through public schools. Some are housed by private childcare providers.

48% of the GBPI survey respondents said the money they receive from the state isn’t enough to provide high-quality programs. 32% said it is sufficient. (Kaitlin Kolarik/for WABE)

Re-thinking The Funding Model

Plenty of districts, including Montgomery County, can’t afford to add much on top of what the state pays.

Walters says her district has just two Pre-K classes. Still, she says the school system chips in about $8-10 thousand dollars a year to cover expenses.

“That is not including any field trips, that is not including anything supplement[ed],” she says. “Plus we have to spend so much on supplies were mandated to do.”

Stephen Owens, with the GBPI, says the state could allocate more funding toward Pre-K if lawmakers are willing.

“The state of Georgia right now is sitting on a significant amount in the lottery reserves that is not allocated for any one thing,” he says. “So that would be good for kind of one-time funding.”

Over the long-term, Owens says the state would likely need to find an additional revenue source. He says lawmakers could consider new sources like raising Georgia’s tobacco tax, which is one of the lowest in the U.S. He says legislators could also review some of the tax credits it gives to businesses.