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Pre-K may reinstate 180-day schedule

Savings from previous cuts to cover return to full calendar

POSTED: October 29, 2012 11:22 p.m.

For the last few years, the state’s prekindergarten programs have dealt with similar issues plaguing Georgia’s public schools, including having to cut the number of days children spend in school.

But, state educational leaders are hoping to get those pre-K students back in the classroom full time.

Gov. Nathan Deal has announced his plan to push to reinstate the 180-day schedule for pre-K programs.

In recent years, pre-K students have attended school for 160 days and last year, in Hall County, for 170 days.

“Gov. Deal has a strong commitment to early learning, and he’s looked for every possible way to return our pre-K program to a full school year,” Brian Robinson, Deal’s spokesman, wrote in an email.

The schedule had been previously cut to ensure the pre-K program’s future, but state officials said the savings from those changes have been more than expected.

“When Gov. Deal took office, the entire program teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and the legislature had to enact serious reforms to save not only pre-K but also HOPE,” wrote Robinson. “Those reforms have stabilized the program and yielded more savings than anticipated.”

The state’s pre-K program, along with the HOPE Scholarship, is funded through the Georgia Lottery.

Robinson said last year the state budgeted for 84,000 pre-K students, but enrollment was less than anticipated.

He said those savings will go toward restoring the classroom days.

Ninth District Opportunity Inc. operates more than a dozen pre-K programs in Hall County Schools and is the largest provider of that program in the county.

Kim McKinny, the organization’s center director for Hall County, said the push to restore days is a “great idea.”

“I hope (Deal) can find someway make it happen because it would be a great benefit to the kids and their families,” said McKinny. “It’s been established that pre-K is extremely beneficial for children going into the school system. So, to be able to give them the full benefit of the program at the full length of the program is going to give them the maximum impact.”

Last year, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, the state spent $4,298 per child enrolled in the state-funded pre-K programs — down almost $1,000 since 2002.

Georgia, in fact, ranks 19th nationally when it comes to expending such resources.

To cope, the state cut days and added students to classrooms.

“That was an extremely difficult impact on the program, not just administratively, but for the impact on the kids and the lack of consistency with the school system,” said McKinny.

But, she said, it’s “encouraging” the state would talk about adding days back.

“I’m sure the state is dealing with the low amounts of income from taxes and lottery funding, but it looks like they feel sufficiently secure enough to be able to suggest putting back the funding for these 10 more days,” McKinny said. “That’s a real good sign.”

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