By DORIE TURNER (Associated Press)
Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he is revamping his plans to cut the state’s pre-kindergarten program to half-day after an outcry from parents and teachers.
The program will remain a full day but the school year will be cut from 180 days to 160 days, and class sizes will increase by two students to 22 each, Deal said. The moves will allow the state to cut $54 million from the cash-strapped program while adding 2,000 slots, which will put a dent in the 10,000-student waiting list.
The cuts are part of Deal’s plan to keep lottery-funded programs — pre-k and the HOPE scholarship — from going broke.
”From day one, we have worked with the full appreciation of the value of having students school-ready when they enter kindergarten and on their way to becoming grade-level readers at grade three,” Deal said during a news conference at the Capitol. ”With this plan, Georgia remains a leader in early education.”
Two weeks ago, Deal proposed cutting pre-k to a half-day, which drew the ire of families who said they need a full day of care for their 4-year-olds and teachers who said they would have to find other jobs.
The new plan would cut teachers’ salaries by 10 percent rather than the 30 percent proposed under the old plan. Preschools and school districts that have pre-k classes will see their funding cut to 94 percent of what they get now, Deal said.
The plan has drawn bipartisan support, including from House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who said she’s relieved her concerns about a half-day program were heard.
”No one is going to get everything they want in this process, but certainly for the minority party to be able to come to the table and get real tangible results, that’s what we were looking for and that’s what we want,” Abrams said after standing by Deal’s side during the news conference.
Georgia was the first state in the country to offer free full-day pre-k to any 4-year-old, but demand for the program has outgrown revenue from the lottery. Early education advocates said Deal’s new plan will maintain that reputation with minimal impact to families and schools.
”This is the best we could come up with while still making changes that needed to be made,” said Mindy Binderman with Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students.
But some Democrats said they wish the governor were as flexible about cuts to the HOPE scholarship program.
Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, said while he’s glad that pre-k will still be full-day, he’s worried that college students who depend on HOPE are not being heard. Carter said the governor needs to require the lottery to put more money in education coffers before he cuts programs.
Education programs get about 26 percent of lottery revenue, which is down over the past few years. State law allows for up to 34 percent.
”We haven’t had anyone listen to the students who have been down at the Capitol,” Carter said about the ongoing student protests at the Gold Dome.
The new HOPE Scholarship bill that could be heard by the state Senate would cut the scholarships for all but the highest scoring students and would stop payments for books, fees and remedial classes. The state House overwhelmingly passed the bill last week.