August is here and with it, a new school year begins. For four-year-olds starting Pre-K, it’s the beginning of their journey to college and the workforce. But Georgia’s lawmakers are letting them down. They’ve cut funding for Pre-kindergarten by 22 percent since 2009 and diminished the program’s quality. Class size has gone up and resource coordinators were eliminated.
Large class sizes aren’t good for kids. Children in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs with low student-teachers ratios are more successful than those who don’t attend these programs. They show greater gains in reading and skills critical for success in school such as working cooperatively with others. And these students continue to do better into adulthood. They are more likely to graduate from high school, be employed and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system than those students who didn’t go to high quality Pre-K.
Getting rid of resource coordinators in 2012 hurt four-year-olds from families with the least financial means. The resource coordinators helped low-income parents understand how to be more involved in their children’s learning at home and in school. They assisted families whose children had developmental challenges get additional services to help them. They connected families to other organizations that could provide help with healthcare, housing, employment training, parenting skills and other important issues. Their work mattered. Research has shown that when Pre-K programs provide support services like the resource coordinators, children do better in kindergarten and beyond.
A recent evaluation of Georgia’s Pre-K program concluded that its quality was medium. If our four-year-olds are going to get the full benefits of Pre-K—if many more of them are to graduate from high school and enter college or get a job—then we can’t settle for medium. We must make sure that our Pre-K program is a high quality one. One essential step is making sure that each student gets the focused encouragement and guidance she needs from teachers by reducing class size. A second is restoring the resource coordinator program. Our children need it and they’re worth it.