Voices for Georgia's Children held a rally with over 60 Georgia pre-k children at the state Capitol on Feb. 22. A 10-year study of Georgia's lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program shows that the number of students having to repeat grades is declining.
A new study shows Georgia's lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program is paying off, with fewer students being held back a grade, dropping out of school and landing in special education classes.
The study, released Tuesday by the nonprofit Southern Education Foundation Inc., puts a dollar value on the most noticeable of the trends -- 10,000 fewer students on average are having to repeat the same grade each year.
The report estimates the net savings at $35.6 million in 2010 and an additional net savings of $212.9 million over the next six calendar years. It also links pre-k to a dip in dropout rates for middle and high schools over the past five years and to 20,000 fewer students being placed in special education classes in the past three years.
Steve Suitts, the vice president of the foundation, an advocacy group for education for more than 150 years, called the report "good news for Georgia."
"There is no other program in Georgia that can match it -- no other program that is as effective and efficient for taxpayers," he said.
Gov. Nathan Deal last week proposed cutting pre-k from a full-time to a part-time program by dropping its hours from 6.5 a day to four a day, a move he said was necessary to cut costs in the face of flat to declining lottery revenue. The move would save $54 million.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, said the governor “knows well how important pre-k is for preparing our state’s 4-year-olds for education excellence."
“The Deal plan saves pre-k for the next generation while still maintaining a generous benefit that is the envy of surrounding states,” he said.
Pat Willis, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia's Children, said the study's positive findings "give us strong encouragement to extend pre-k to even greater numbers of disadvantaged children."
"If Georgia would just invest in annual analysis of the actual participants in pre-k and HOPE, we could guide our programs to even greater benefit for students and all of Georgia," she said.
The study's authors said Deal's plan will have Georgia bucking the national trend of pre-k programs going to longer, not shorter, hours. But they stopped short of calling on the governor to reconsider.
"It's a unique program that's saving millions of dollars," Suitts said. "That's not something you tinker with lightly."
The study, which looked at pre-k data from 2000 to 2010, found:
That as the number of students who have been to pre-k has expanded and become a larger portion of the entire K-12 enrollment, Georgia's grade retention rate has dropped (from 4.1 percent in 2002 to 3.7 percent in 2010, equating to 10,000 fewer students repeating a grade);
That the rate at which middle and high school students have left public schools has declined from 3.5 percent to 2.6 percent in the past five years, equating to about 20,134 students;
That from 2007 through 2010, the number of students placed in special education has dropped by almost 20,000, resulting in a potential savings of up to $35 million in that time period.
Georgia's pre-k program is one of the largest in the country, with 84,000 students and a waiting list of about 10,000. One of the governor's proposals is to reinvest part of the savings from moving to a part-time program into adding space for 5,000 more students.
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