Atlanta Public Schools is keeping a watchful eye on how potential state funding cuts would impact its pre-kindergarten program. AJC file photo 2019. 
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Potential state cuts could mean fewer Atlanta pre-K classrooms

Atlanta Public Schools officials are keeping a close eye on potential state cuts to pre-kindergarten programs. 

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the district could lose up to $500,000 in pre-K funding next school year, which she said could mean a loss of three to six classrooms. 

APS currently has 64 pre-kindergarten classrooms serving about 1,200 students at 39 school sites. 

Carstarphen told viewers during a virtual town hall on Tuesday that APS only recently received guidance on the pending pre-K cuts. 

APS has already been preparing for big state cuts that will reduce its general fund budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 by more than $50 million compared to the current year. Those cuts come as the state slides into an economic downturn amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s Department of Early Care and Learning told legislators this week that if lottery funding, which pays for pre-K programs, is also subject to a 14% reduction than it would mean big cuts. The department could drop 19 planning and instructional days from the school calendar to decrease teacher salary costs. It also could eliminate 4,000 of the 84,000 student slots statewide, or about 180 fewer classrooms. 

Carstarphen said that the state numbers sound “really large” and the district will be thoughtful as it awaits more financial information during the state budget process. 

“We are closely monitoring all of this, and we’ll review the actual cuts and determine the impacts and identify the next steps,” she said.

Advocates have called for the state to protect pre-K money. Mindy Binderman, executive director of GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, said reductions are unnecessary because lottery revenue has remained steady and there’s also rainy-day funds that could be used. 

“The long-term impact of these cuts would be felt for years, as Georgia’s children would miss out on learning the critical skills that prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond,” she said, in a written statement. 

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