Local News

April 9, 2013

Preschool ‘powerful’ for children's future

Most Democrats and Republicans have something in common when it comes to ideology.

They both want children in preschool so they can become better educated citizens as they grow.

Gov. Nathan Deal asked state officials to better fund preschool programs in January, while President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address in February he wanted to make a push to fund “high-quality preschool program(s).”

Both moves might seem ambitious after sequestration put its claws into the federal budget. Sequestration is a political term referring to automatic cuts that hit the federal budget on March 1. Congress approved the act and Obama signed it into law.

Some preschools tied to the national Head Start program that offers services for low-income families have been hit by sequestration, but Georgia is “not feeling a big impact right now,” said Susan Adams, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Early Care and Learning, who spoke at the Kiwanis Club of Dalton meeting Monday.

Most funding for the department comes from the lottery dollars and federal funding, which means sequestration could still hurt the department eventually.

“Well, we do see sequestration a bit ... at the local grantees level,” Adams said. “So we may cut some there, maybe cutting some staff days (with furloughs). There might be some child development dollars cut (to some unspecified programs). We feel like this upcoming year is good ... we will be OK in giving these services to kids.”

After that, Adams is unsure.

Adams encouraged parents to enroll their kids into preschool programs.

“There is a large volume of research out there that speaks to the experience children have in preschool,” Adams said.

Participation in a high-quality preschool program “is powerful on how kids do in kindergarten” and in the future, she said.

Georgia is one of three states to have universal preschool programs, which attempt to offer preschool services to all 94,000 enrolled children regardless of income. Not every preschool is “high-quality,” according to a recent $1.8 million study funded by the Georgia General Assembly.

The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina looked at 509 children from 100 preschools in the Georgia between 2011 and 2012 and reported that preschools here are efficient in giving kids an educational edge, but rate the state department a “medium” because officials don’t focus enough on English-learning children.

Asked about the rating, Adams said, “the study is ongoing and will also compare students who did not have preschool to students who did ... as with English learners, the department is taking particular interest to strategies for working with them.”

“We are particularly looking at professional development for teachers,” she said. “We’re also looking at a pilot program this summer to look at rising pre-K children who are English-language learners to do a six-week program before they even enter pre-K classes. All to give them kind of a boost.”

That would include both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking staff “so we can make sure to foster that home language,” Adams added.

Department officials are looking at an initial 20 pilot classes statewide, Adams said.

“We haven’t chosen (which counties) yet,” she said. “We have looked at Whitfield County. We’re targeting places with a high Hispanic population to possibly fund these programs.”

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