HISTORY OF GEORGIA’S PRE-K PROGRAM
During the 1990 gubernatorial election in Georgia, Governor Miller proposed the creation of the Georgia Lottery for Education. To ensure public support for the referendum, he committed to the Georgia electorate that all funds would be used to supplement – not supplant – existing educational programs. He specifically supported the development of a preschool program and a college scholarship initiative. The voters of Georgia passed the proposal in November 1992. After the referendum passed, the Governor assigned senior staff in his Office of Planning and Budget, leaders of the Department of Education, and staff in the Department of Human Resources to formulate a plan for the preschool initiative.
Unlike the development of other statewide initiatives, formative hands-on management came directly from the Governor. The personal involvement of Governor Miller is clearly one of the reasons why a program serving a few hundred children a decade ago has become the most successful prekindergarten effort in the nation today.
Georgia’s Pre-K Program began as a pilot program serving 750 at-risk four-year-old children and their families at 20 sites in 1992. Three million dollars from state funds paid for the program. In 1993-94, the first lottery funds were utilized to provide prekindergarten programs for more than 8,700 at-risk four-year-old children.
In September 1995 the program was universally opened to all eligible four-year-old children, not just at-risk families. The program tripled its expansion efforts from 15,500 children in 1994-95 to 44,000 slots during the 1995-96 school year. During this time, the private sector became an integral part of the program allowing the program to expand quickly without utilizing funds for capital outlay on new buildings or expansion facilities. A public/private partnership of this magnitude was a first in Georgia and the nation.
In March 1996, the Georgia General Assembly created the Office of School Readiness to be a one-stop children’s department administering Georgia’s Pre-K Program, federal nutrition programs, and some early intervention services. The Pre-K program continued to expand under the newly created Office of School Readiness from 57,000 children in 1996-97 to 68,000 children in the 2003-2004 school year. By of the tenth anniversary of Georgia’s Pre-K Program in 2002-2003, over 500,000 children had participated in the lottery funded Pre-K Program.
2018 marks the 25th birthday of the program, and more than 83,000 children are being served in every county in the state, with more than 1.6 million children served since the program’s inception.