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 then, and Governor Deal now, 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.
The Pre-K Program began as a pilot program serving 750 at-risk four-year-old children and their families at 20 sites in 1992. These programs were school-based, center-based, and home-based programs best suited to meeting individual community needs. 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.
The next major prekindergarten milestone took place in September 1995 when the program was universally opened to all eligible four-year-old children, not just at-risk families. The program tripled its expansion efforts from15,500 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. Major improvements in program quality, implementation of learning goals and quality standards, simplified administrative requirements, and intense training initiatives were implemented. The instructional standards children enrolled in Pre-K were revised in 2003 to align with current research, and the program evaluation (Georgia's Pre-K Program Quality Assessment) was updated to assist providers in raising the quality of services and meeting the needs of the children. 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.
On July 1, 2004, the Office of School Readiness officially became Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. The Department was created when the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 456 during the 2004 session. The Pre-K Program served 72,000 children during the 2004-2005 school year and 74,000 children during the 2005-2006 school year. A major milestone was reached during the 2009-2010 school year when Georgia became the first state in the nation to serve more than one million Pre-K children in a voluntary, universal, lottery-funded program. During the 2010-2011 school year, more than 82,000 children were served in every county in the state. During the 2012-2013 school year the program hit another milestone by celebrating 20 years of Georgia’s Pre-K. During the 2012-2013 school year the program served 84,000 children. The Department will continue to administer Georgia's Pre-K Program while creating a comprehensive early care and education system. Georgia's Pre-K Program continues to update policies and standards each year to increase quality services for the children and families of Georgia.