Georgia’s state-funded universal pre-K program has been proven to significantly affect language, literacy and math skills in the pre-K students enrolled. The program, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary as the first state funded early childhood education program in the country, reaches 58 percent of 4-year-olds in the state. Including federal Head Start and special education preschool brings the share of children served to nearly 89 percent, and about 3,464 children under the age of three are served by Early Head Start. Gov. Nathan Deal has stated that the next frontier in his state’s early childhood education program is to place greater focus on preparing children from birth to age three. The average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $7,228.
- What the governor is saying: In his State of the State Address, Gov. Nathan praised the progress the state has made in expanding early learning opportunities for preschoolers and serving as a model for the rest of the country. He stated, “We must work to avoid the necessity of costly remediation. If we hope for the greatest results, we must get it right the first time! This means making sure they’re reading on grade level by the end of third grade and then following through as they continue their education journey.” The governor believes that the next step is to expand access to early childhood education for children birth to age three through the Georgia Program for Infant Toddler Care (GAPITC).
- Funding Increases: Georgia was one of the six states awarded with a 2013 Race to the Top-Early Learning grant. The grant totals more than $51 million and the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning has set goals for using the funds, including improving upon the department’s Quality Rated system, building a strong early learning education workforce through scholarships, providing more resources to high poverty areas of the state and increasing accountability in systems and programs. Together with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, Gov. Deal announced in July 2014 plans to select four, multi-county Early Education Empowerment Zones, which will receive more than $1 million to improve programming for children, birth through 5-years-old. Plans to provide additional financial support to the state’s early childhood educators through three programs designed to assist the professionals in enhancing their credentials were also revealed.
- National recognition: Georgia’s universal pre-K program has gained national attention for being truly universal, rather than targeted or income-based. As the country’s oldest public preschool program that does not rely on taxpayer dollars, it is championed by both Republicans and Democrats alike. The model has served as a case study for mayors, governors, lawmakers, business leaders and many others looking to build the case for boosting early childhood education across the country.