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Impact of Pre-K in Georgia as Biden pushes for free, universal early education

A child's early years are critical when it comes to setting kids up for success, experts report.

The pre-K registration for the 2021-2022 school year is currently underway in Georgia and families are applying as President Joe Biden continues to push his American family Plan.

Part of the proposal includes universal pre-school for all three and four-year-old children regardless of income.  

Here is the impact the plan will have in Georgia.

"From the ages of birth to five we're setting the foundation in those first five years for everything that happens later," Mindy Binderman with the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) explained.

A child's early years are critical when it comes to setting kids up for success, experts report. That is part of the reason Biden continues to push for universal pre-K.

Kimberly Dukes is the head of a parent group in Atlanta known as Thrive. She told 11Alive's Liza Lucas she is on board. 

"I think that's great, making sure they're setting up the K-12," Dukes said. 

That foundation is already available to four-year-olds in Georgia through the lottery-funded pre-K program.

However, federal funding could mean reaching even more kids, Binderman explained.

"It could also potentially expand to three-year-olds, particularly, and communities that are most in need," Binderman stated.

She praised the quality of Georgia's pre-K but said issues like class size could help improve the program. Not to mention, there is a current waitlist of 45 to 100 preschool students.

"Currently, if you have a four-year-old in Georgia, no matter what your income is, you can enroll your four-year-old in the Georgia pre-K program, as long as there is space available," Binderman explained.

What about teacher's pay

Another issue that needs support is teacher compensation. 

11Alive's Liza Lucas found that salary issues contribute to the turnover among preschool educators. A survey by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute reports that state funding is inadequate and contributes to the difficulty in keeping these children.

"Several years ago the state made a real investment in our pre-k teachers, our lead teachers and have worked really hard to ensure that the state portion of their salary that is funded through the lottery...it is at parity with K-12 teachers...but we would all say that assistant teachers are underpaid, we need some help, raising that rate," Binderman explained.

Biden's plan pushes for all preschool employees to earn $15 an hour.

They proposed a national partnership with states which would also make Georgia partially responsible for funding. States who opt-in would initially be responsible for 10% of funding and eventually up to 50% of funding.

However, whether congress signs off on the plan is unknown. One woman just hopes parents and families will have a seat at the table.

"So that we can ask the tough questions, and we can ensure that our families are getting what they really need," Dukes said.

Georgia's Department of Early Care and Learning

A spokesperson for Georgia's Department of Early Care and Learning told 11alive "there would be some areas in the state where capacity would need to be expanded in both public schools and child care programs. Without having more information on the plan, we can't anticipate other challenges."

The Georgia Pre-K Program provides a 6.5-hour instructional day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year at no cost to families, according to the website.

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