Under the leadership and personal involvement of Governor Zell Miller the 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 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. 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 current 20th year of the program, more than 83,000 children are being served in every county in the state. The Georgia’s Pre-K program has moved from serving a few hundred children a decade ago and has become the most successful prekindergarten effort in the nation today.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) held its annual Conference and Expo at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta in October, 2012. Among the 50 hours of presentations on early childhood education was a 90-minute panel presentation entitled “Georgia’s Pre-K Program: Celebrating 20 Years — Looking Back but Moving Forward.” Click here to view the videos of that presentation.
For additional details about the history of the Georgia’s Pre-K program please visit http://www.decal.ga.gov/Prek/AboutPrek.aspx.