Notes from the Senate
by Whitley Clifton | October 9, 2019 2:23 pm
by SENATOR JACK HILL, 4th District
Recently, the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) released an updated study evaluating the long-term effectiveness of Georgia’s Pre-K program. There have already been studies highlighting Georgia Pre-K quality and outcomes of children in a Georgia Pre-K program and immediately after. The ongoing Longitudinal Study is tracking outcomes of children from pre-K through fifth grade. The recently released report is part of the study, looking at the social and academic outcomes of Georgia Pre-K participants in second grade (“Year 4”). The final year of the study will be in in 2019-2020 when the students complete fifth grade.
The series of longitudinal studies are carried out by the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So far, the studies have pointed to the positive impacts of participation in Georgia Pre-K.
ABOUT GEORGIA’S PRE-K PROGRAM
Georgia offers free, universal pre-kindergarten education to all four-year olds in preparation for Kindergarten. Pre-k providers can be public or private schools. The program started in 1992 as a pilot for at-risk families but became available to all four-year olds in 1995. It provides educational instruction for children for a full 180-day school year — 6.5 hours each day, five days a week. DECAL administers the statewide program.
Georgia’s Pre-K program is funded by lottery proceeds. Since its inception in 1992, the Georgia General Assembly has appropriated over $7.3 billion for over 1.8 million pre-k slots.
FY 2020 appropriations for the pre-K program totaled $378.7 million in lottery funds, including $15 million for a $3,000 pay raise for all certified lead teachers and $1.5 million for a 2% salary increase for assistant teachers.
Current funding provides spaces for about 84,000 pre-k children each year, although only about 80,000 actually enroll. About 60% of all four-year-olds are served by Georgia Pre-K, although DECAL works hard to get as many eligible children into pre-k classrooms as possible and grow that participation rate. A complicating factor is that not all communities have enough spaces for all eligible children because provider participation in the program is voluntary.
The Longitudinal Study evaluates the long-term social and academic outcomes of children who attended Georgia Pre-K during the 2013-2014 school year. So far, the studies have found that the Georgia Pre-K participants experienced significant, greater-than-expected gains in language, literacy, math, executive function, and behavior skills in Pre-K and kindergarten, although the gains started to slow by first grade.
The study released this year evaluates students’ educational outcomes in 2nd grade (“Year 4”).
Overall, the series of studies have shown that Georgia Pre-K does a creditable job of preparing children for kindergarten and elementary school.
Georgia Pre-K participants experienced greater-than-average academic and social gains in pre-k and kindergarten, with the rate slowing in first grade and even more so in second grade. However, despite the slower learning growth rate, the Georgia Pre-K participants still scored around the national mean on most academic and behavioral measures in second grade.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE-K EDUCATION
So what does this say about Georgia Pre-K? On most educational and social measures, Georgia Pre-K participants make the greatest, most significant gains in pre-k and kindergarten. Although the gains slow down, the students are still performing at, and not under, the national average. This says a couple of things.
First, we need to continue to invest in early education initiatives to maintain the gains experienced during pre-k and kindergarten. Children are having enriching pre-k experiences that help them gain knowledge and skills at an advanced rate in pre-k and kindergarten, which need to continue through high-quality instruction in elementary school. Schools tackle teaching important early elementary skills in different ways, with the state helping through different programs and initiatives.
For example, the Georgia Department of Education’s Literacy for Learning, Living and Leading in Georgia (L4GA) Grant is providing over $58 million in grants to 38 school districts over three years to achieve a range of literacy-oriented goals, targeting birth through age five childcare providers and elementary schools, as well as middle and high schools. Another example is the RESA Growing Readers Program administered by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), which helps provide K-3 teachers with high-quality professional training on literacy instruction.
Second, the Longitudinal Study points to the importance of pre-k in preparing children for success in elementary school. Many school districts already know this and have been investing in pre-k opportunities for its future students. Many children show up to kindergarten already behind grade level, struggling to catch up in subsequent years. The study is showing us that at the very least, Georgia Pre-K is helping children show up to elementary school at or above grade level, so that they can continue to learn important foundational skills for math and reading.
For more information, please read the Longitudinal Study Executive Summary for Year 4 here: http://decal.ga.gov/documents/attachments/GAPreKEvalLongitudinalYr4ExSum.pdf and the full report here: http://decal.ga.gov/documents/attachments/GAPreKEvalLongitudinalYr4Report.pdf.
I may be reached at 234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; 404-656-5038 (phone); 404-657-7094 (fax); e-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov; toll-free at 1-800-367-3334, day or night; or by phone at my Reidsville office, 912-557-3811.