On January 16th, the House Working Group on Early Childhood Education issued bold recommendations to enhance Georgia’s Lottery-funded Pre-K Program. They urged the Georgia legislature and Governor Brian Kemp to budget $100 million to. . .
- Restore class size to 20 students per class. (In 2011, that number was raised to 22 students/class to cut costs. It was a measure that was always meant to be temporary.)
- Meaningfully increase the salaries of lead and assistant Pre-K teachers.
- Increase Pre-K classroom start-up grants from $8,000 to $30,000, the first such increase in decades.
- Provide capital funding for new or renovated Pre-K classrooms in both public school and private child care settings.
We at GEEARS are immensely grateful to the House Working Group for their visionary proposal. Formed in 2023 by House Speaker Jon Burns, this committee has spent months studying research, listening to recommendations by advocates, including GEEARS, and placing value in the constituents who matter most in this matter—the four-year-old Georgians who deserve the strongest possible launch into their elementary years, and their hard-working teachers, who desperately want to remain in their highly-skilled, credentialed roles.
The Working Group’s chairwoman, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones, understands this. When she announced the group’s recommendations and $100 million budget request, she noted, “An assistant teacher, today, earns $20,000. She or he could make more working full-time at Target.”
We’re thrilled that the Working Group has made these recommendations. It’s a momentous step, but it’s only a first step. If Georgia’s young children and teachers are to benefit from changes to our Pre-K system, the recommendations must become policy.
Georgia’s Pre-K receives its funding from the Georgia Lottery. As of FY2023, $1.4 billion of those funds are designated as unrestricted reserves, making the working group’s $100 million request more than affordable. Each year, the reserves generate $72 million in interest alone.
We’re grateful to Governor Kemp for the value he’s already demonstrated for Georgia’s long-venerated Pre-K program with $50 million in investments included in his proposal. Given Pre-K’s tremendous bipartisan support in the Georgia General Assembly, we hope and trust that all our lawmakers will agree with the House Working Group’s recommendations and include the full $100 million in recommended funding as the budget process moves forward.
There is no small amount of urgency here. Every year counts for Georgia’s youngest children. Their most active and critical brain development, at a rate of one million new neural connections every second, happens in these earliest years.
Legislative and public support for Pre-K also has momentum. In this year of great need, the recommended improvements have the emphatic support of Speaker Burns, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, and many other members of the House and Senate. And ever since GEEARS first started polling likely voters in 2010, bipartisan support for a publicly-funded Pre-K has remained remarkably high, with nine in 10 of our respondents expressing approval.
Even though the Working Group’s recommendations almost exactly match GEEARS suggestions, this is not a case of We asked, you granted. Rather, these recommendations indicate that all of us—legislators, advocates, education leaders, teachers, and families—are on the same page. Together, we all see that these changes will make a profound, positive impact on countless Georgians. Together, we recognize that the return on this investment—a whole new generation of Kindergarten-ready students—will be profound.
And now, together, let’s cross the finish line and make these requests a reality for our state’s Pre-K program. Thank you in advance to all our lawmakers for your serious consideration of the House Working Group’s recommendations.