After fury, Deal alters pre-K plan

Shorter year substituted for half-day class schedule
Pre-K teacher Debora Williams helps Ben Johnson, 4, with a drawing.

Last week, Martha Morris had a field of unknowns facing her prekindergarten classroom.


Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed cutting Georgia's Pre-K Program to half-days because the program's expenses have outpaced its revenue source, the Georgia Lottery, in recent years.

How could Morris cram a full curriculum of material into four hours each day?

The proposal also called for a 30 percent salary reduction for teachers. Would she have to pick up a second job to get by?

Now, she faces a different set of questions.

As a response to objections from parents and teachers across the state, Deal on Monday proposed that pre-K classes have 20 fewer days each school year instead of converting to half-days.

The plan would save the state program $54 million and cut teachers' salaries by 10 percent.

Class sizes would increase by two pupils for a total of 22 in each classroom, a move that would take 2,000 pupils off the state's waiting list. Pre-K classes are free for all Georgia 4-year-olds, but only about 57 percent, or 81,068, were able to enroll in the 2009-10 school year.

"I think a shorter year is better because with half-days I had no confidence it would be consistent with a pre-K learning environment," said Morris, a teacher at ABC Childcare and Learning Center in Augusta. "Once you cut it down in half, it seemed like the program would fail."

The pre-K school year would be cut from 180 to 160 days, and providers would receive 94 percent of the funding they currently get.

Morris said a shorter year would be easier to work with than shorter days, adding that teachers may remove nonessential activities to accommodate the lost days.

Columbia County school Superintendent Charles Nagle said Deal's new plan gives schools more to work with but still poses financial problems.

School districts will have to decide whether to fund those 20 days independently or enter into a shorter year.

Nagle said the program might have to run off of only what funding the state provides, though he noted that financial decisions will have to be made by the school board.

"We would not be able to put anything or do any local subsidizing at this point because our budget is going to be so tight," Nagle said.

Richmond County School System Acting Superintendent James Whitson said there might be options beyond either cutting 20 days off the school year or asking the district to pay for those days.

"It may not be one or the other," Whitson said.

As the school board begins budget talks, finance department employees and curriculum leaders will examine which grants might be able to supplement the 58 Richmond County pre-K classes or which curriculum changes could make the best of 20 fewer days.

"We have to look not only at our budget, but we have to look at, 'How does that budget serve our population and our community?' " Whitson said. "What would be the educational impact? What's the negative consequences both in the short term, and what's the negative consequences in the long term?"

Angela Ramsey, the director of A Child's World Child Care Center on Stevens Creek Road, said she was glad to hear that the pre-K program would remain full day, even if that meant giving up 20 days.

She said parents have approached her with day care concerns since Deal's initial announcement two weeks ago.

Teachers were also worried about pay cuts and meeting the pressures of cramming material into a half-day schedule.

Now, she said, her four teachers and 40 students will have to work with the changes.

"Even though I wish they wouldn't cut it at all, if they have to, I would be more accepting of them cutting it (by) 20 days," Ramsey said. "We'll get by."

Gov. Deal to scale back pre-k cuts
Pre-K saves money, according to study
Pre-k proposal

Under the new plan, the pre-K 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, Gov. Nathan Deal said. The moves will allow Georgia to cut $54 million from the cash-strapped program while adding 2,000 slots, which will put a dent in the 10,000-pupil waiting list.

The new plan would cut teacher 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.

-- Associated Press



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