Deal: State needs to add back 10 pre-k days

Gov. Nathan Deal will propose reinstating 10 of 20 days that were removed from the current pre-k year, said Erin Hames, Deal’s deputy chief of staff for policy.

The longer school year -- 170 days -- will result in a 4.4 percent pay raise for pre-k teachers, Hames said.

With lawmakers returning to town Monday for the 40-day legislative session, Deal unveiled some of his agenda, including plans to streamline parts of state government and retool the pre-k program.

Last year, Deal suggested cutting the nationally lauded pre-k program from a full day to half day as part of a plan to ensure the long-term future of it and the popular HOPE scholarship program. Both programs are funded by slowing lottery revenues.

After a public outcry, Deal recommended, and the legislature approved, shortening the pre-k school year from 180 to 160 days, and adding two students to each pre-k class. Teachers immediately left the program, providers said.

Bobby Cagle, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said Thursday the governor’s recommendations should help on two fronts: students and teachers.

“All of the studies indicate the more time a child spends in the classroom at this age the better off they are,” Cagle said.

He's also optimistic the pay raise will “stem some of the tide of teachers leaving.”

After the shorter school year and related pay cuts were approved, the retention rate for all pre-k teachers went from 81 percent to 75 percent. More dramatic was the turnover of pre-k teachers who work in public schools, with their retention rate falling from 87 percent to 64 percent, according to statistics compiled by Cagle’s office.

Pat Willis, executive director of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia's Children, said Deal's plan to restore 10 days is a welcome step.

"Especially for low-income kids, a full year of program is important for their preparation for kindergarten," she said.

Hames said the governor will recommend the $7 million cost of adding 10 days be offset by reducing the pre-k slots by 2,000. In the plan approved last year, the governor increased the program's slots from 84,000 to 86,000. Yet most of those extra slots were not filled, she said.

Deal said Thursday his 2013 budget proposal calls for consolidation or elimination of some state agencies. He expects the moves to save money, though he acknowledged some public sector jobs would be lost.

"I think it does bode well for the taxpayers of the state that we're spending their money in a wise fashion, trying to avoid unnecessary duplication," Deal said of his efforts to cut costs in government. "From purely a functional standpoint, it's about having things that make sense and are compatible with each other in the same agency."

Among the changes the governor is recommending is the elimination of the State Personnel Administration, which oversees human resources. His proposal calls for those duties to be transferred to a division of the Department of Administrative Services, a move he estimates will save more than $850,000 and eliminate 40 jobs.

Deal also wants to privatize the Georgia's aviation services and sell some of the state's aircraft, and transfer the Sexual Offender Review Board to a new division at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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