Don McKee: Study shows pre-kindergarten impact on grade retention, dropouts
by Don McKee
Columnist
March 01, 2011 11:46 PM | 1066 views | 2 2 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
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There's a big downside to Gov. Nathan Deal's plan for cutting pre-K from six and a half to four hours a day as part of the effort to keep the HOPE scholarship program solvent.

This inconvenient truth jumps out from a new study by the Southern Education Foundation, a respected organization whose roots go back to Reconstruction. The study makes a very convincing case for not cutting Georgia's state-fund pre-K from a full day to a half day.

Since the program began under then-Gov. Zell Miller in 1997, "state funding has barely kept up with the steady, brisk growth of the number of four-year-olds in the state," the SEF study found. This year the program serves 84,000 children, about 57 percent of the four-year-olds in Georgia. But every year, limited funding by the state lottery has prevented the program from enrolling 7,000 to 10,000 children whose parents want them in pre-K.

There are some remarkable findings about this program: Georgia pre-K is not merely a babysitting service. Not at all. It produces results that might be astonishing to anyone unfamiliar with the program.

The study credits Georgia pre-K with having "a real impact on two important areas of public education in the state: reducing grade retention and dropouts." Without the pre-K program, "an average of more than 10,000 students each year would have repeated the same grade."

Aside from this huge educational benefit, pre-K more than pays its way: "The costs for K-12 education would have been an additional $35.6 million in 2010 without Georgia pre-K," SEF says. "During the next six calendar years - 2011 through 2016 - Georgia's public education budgets will realize savings of more than $212.9 million in tax revenues and expenditures because students who have been in Georgia pre-K have not repeated the same grade as often as other students."

The savings are unique because non-tax lottery money is used to fund the program. "Georgia pre-K is the one and only state government program which actually reduces tax expenditures without spending tax revenues today." The study cites economist Robert Lynch's cost-benefit study of a fully funded universal state pre-K program. Lynch estimated that "annual savings in state and local government expenditures would exceed the annual program costs of Georgia pre-K within two decades."

Yet, "for too long," SEF says, funding for Georgia pre-K "has failed to keep up with the inflation-driven cost of delivering a high-quality program to each student during the last 15 years." Per child expenditures have dropped from $4,895 in 1997 to $4,226 in 2011 - down $669 over the past 15 years!

While the HOPE scholarship program received a 35.7 percent increase in funding between 2008 and 2011, Georgia pre-K's funding inched up only 8.5 percent.

The SEF study concludes: "The Georgia General Assembly should maintain the existing Georgia pre-K program at current levels in the 2011-12 state budget with lottery funds." Then at the first sign of better economic times, pre-K should be expanded and strengthened.

There ought to be a better way.

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ugagrad
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March 06, 2011
West cobb mom is correct. Four hrs is plenty of time for 4 year olds to spend in pre-k. Mine did and she will be a Zell Miller scholar at UGA this fall....It is up to the parents to assume some responsability in raising and educating their children...some people just like to live off govt. benefits. What a shame!!!!!
West Cobb Resident
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March 02, 2011
My daughter teaches pre-K. She says 4 hours is plenty of time to academically prepare kids for kindergarten and beyond. The real issue here is parents not wanting to pay for additional hours or the inconvenience of having to pick them up mid-day.
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