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Concerns raised over pre-K cuts under Deal's new plan

Pre-K leaders in Gainesville, Hall County Schools bracing for possible changes

POSTED: February 24, 2011 12:14 a.m.

Gainesville resident Amy Stowers is one parent who doesn't want to see cuts to the state's pre-kindergarten program.

Her 5-year-old daughter attends the pre-K program at First Presbyterian Church on Enota Drive.

"She's learning to read, (and learning) math skills and inter-social skills," she said. "She's also learned about field trips and being independent."

Stowers heard news this week that Gov. Nathan Deal is proposing to shorten pre-K days.

The legislation calls for a 4-hour day reduced from a 6 1/2-hour day. This would be accomplished, in part, by removing nap time.

"If it wasn't for the fact that so many parents work, it makes for a difficult situation," she said.

She added that the longer day allows less time for children to be idle.

Pre-K leaders in Gainesville and Hall County Schools are also bracing for those changes.

Carrie Woodcock, pre-K coordinator for Hall County Schools, said the Hall County system serves about 120 pre-K children each year.

"I trust that (Deal) is watching out for our budget, but I'm always sad to hear that education is cut in any way," Woodcock said. "I want to give kids as much time as they can in the classroom."

One concern is that a shorter school day could burden parents, she said.

"Say you're a single parent and working, and your child's instructional day is four hours. Are you going to able to pick them up? Where are you going to take that child?" Woodcock said.

Hall County's pre-K program partners with the YMCA for an after-school program for a nominal fee to parents. Woodcock said the YMCA could offer additional child care.

"But if they would, for how much?" Woodcock said. "Any time a bite is taken out of parents' paycheck that worries me."

Both the governor and some state lawmakers said Georgia lottery money that funds the HOPE scholarship and pre-K are not keeping pace with demand.

Sweeping changes were also announced for the HOPE scholarship, including paying full tuition for only those with a 3.7 GPA or better while only 90 percent would be covered for those with a 3.0.

Pre-K will still be free to all 4-year-olds. A shorter school day would allow pre-K to make room for more than half of the estimated 9,000 children on the waiting list, the governor said. There was also a proposed plan to increase funds for pre-K transportation.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said Deal's decision was reasonable, given today's economic challenges.

"These are challenging times and people need to make difficult decisions," Schofield said.

Connie Davis, director of pre-K and day care for Gainesville City Schools, said the district can only wait and see what decisions come from the state level.

"We are sitting on the edge and waiting for numbers to come in for funding and more explanation," she said.

Davis noted pre-K is a time when students learn fundamentals such as counting, the alphabet, sharing and taking turns.

"We have heard from several sources that they do so much better in kindergarten when they attend pre-K," she said.

"My hope is that we can continue programs for students for the benefits it brings to students."

 



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