Deal's pre-k plan restores 10 days, raises teacher pay, reduces pupils' slots


ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday that he wants to add 10 days to the state’s prekindergarten calendar this fall, restoring half the number he eliminated to help save the program in 2011.


Deal told The Associated Press in an interview that he wants to increase the number of days 4-year-olds are in lottery-funded pre-k, which will raise teachers’ salaries by about 4 percent. The move means the state will have 2,000 fewer slots for children, or about 84,000.

“Last year we had to make some very appropriate structural changes,” Deal said in an interview in his office. “This year we are be­ing able to sustain some of those changes and actually improve on some of those changes.”

Deal led the charge last year to overhaul the lottery-funded pre-k and HOPE scholarship programs after demand outpaced lottery revenues.

He initially proposed cutting pre-k to half-day but changed that to slicing 20 days from the calendar after an outcry from parents and education advocates. He also added 5,000 slots to the program, though officials say not all of those were filled this year.

The shorter calendar meant a pay cut for pre-k teachers, some of whom left the program because of the change, said Mindy Binderman, of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students.

“Last year, we had an unprecedented expansion, but at the same time of doing that, we may have compromised quality,” Binderman said. “We think an emphasis on quality and adding these days back takes precedence right now.”

Deal also said that he wants to keep HOPE awards flat for next year –
rather than the cuts some had anticipated – and to put another $20 million into the state’s low-interest loan program. The program will run out of money at the end of the month, with more than 2,200 students selected through a lottery-based system.

The majority of students in the loan program reported that they expect little or no family contributions to their educations.

“It’s a rather remarkable indication that what we intended it to do, it is doing – it is going to those with the highest need,” Deal said.

The changes are all part of Deal’s budget proposal, which he will release next week. All measures must be approved by state lawmakers, who gather Monday for the start of the legislative session.