Celebrating 25 Years of Georgia's Pre-K Program

The logo design by a Georgia Pre-K student for the 25th birthday celebration.

Georgia is proud to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Georgia Pre-K, the first universal Pre-K Program in the nation.

In 1992, former Governor Zell Miller helped start the program with 750 “at-risk” participants as a pilot. Today, any four-year-old in the state is eligible to attend, and Georgia Pre-K serves over 80,000 children across the state in both private early learning centers and public schools.

Georgia’s Pre-K Program is funded by the state’s lottery, and Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) administers this comprehensive, voluntary, educational program at no cost to families. Georgia Pre-K is offered during the regular school day with 6.5 hours of instructional time, and parents have the option of enrolling their children in public or private programs. To ensure the quality, Georgia’s Pre-K classrooms practices are aligned with the Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards  which are based on current research of best practices.  In addition, programs may use one of several approved curricula.

Georgia Pre-K has bipartisan support, and it has been heralded by both Democratic and Republican governors.  Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal have been enthusiastic supporters of early education in Georgia.  First Lady Deal, a former elementary school teacher, has travelled to all of Georgia’s 159 counties to read in a Georgia Pre-K classroom.  Governor Deal has demonstrated his support in the State budget.  In 2016, for example, he added funding to ensure salary parity between Pre-K teachers and elementary school teachers.  This parity decision recognizes the important role that teachers of young children play and is aimed at reducing teacher attrition.

Polling has also indicated the overwhelming support that Georgia’s lottery funded Pre-K has among voters.  GEEARS conducts a statewide poll of likely voters every four years, and our last poll, in 2014, found 87% support of Georgia Pre-K. 

From left to right: Mindy Binderman, GEEARS Executive Director; DECAL Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs; Coy Bowles; First Lady Sandra Deal; Governor Nathan Deal; Carrie Ashbee, Georgia Foundation for Early Care + Learning Executive Director; Bryan Miller, grandson of former Governor Zell Miller

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal addressing attendees of the 25th Birthday Celebration.

Pre-K students from Hapeville Elementary School performing at the 25th Birthday Celebration.

While the 25th anniversary is a landmark occasion of celebration, Georgia supports its Pre-K program year-round through several different initiatives and efforts. Every fall, Georgia celebrates Pre-K Week, where members of Georgia’s General Assembly, mayors, city council members, and other local leaders are encouraged to visit child care centers and schools that offer Georgia Pre-K. This designated week gives leaders an opportunity to meet with students, teachers, and community advocates who are focused on supporting quality early learning.

Rep. Mary M. Oliver reading to Georgia Pre-K students during the 2016 Pre-K Week.

Georgia also celebrates its teachers through a special award established by GEEARS Board Chair Stephanie Blank and administered by DECAL. Pre-K teachers have the opportunity to apply for the Georgia’s Pre-K Program Teacher of the Year award, and DECAL selects a winner from a public school system and a winner from a private child care center. These individuals serve as ambassadors for Georgia’s Pre-K Program through public speaking engagements, representing Georgia’s Pre-K at meetings, and modeling effective classroom practices.

DECAL team members and GEEARS Board Chair Stephanie Blank presenting Jodi McNamara with the Pre-K Teacher of the Year Award.

DECAL Commissioner, Amy M. Jacobs said, “Georgia Pre-K’s success can be attributed directly to the outstanding Pre-K teachers and assistants who implement this program daily. This award is a small way for us to recognize their efforts.” Last year’s Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Henderson, pioneered a project to prepare students to compete in our ever-evolving digital world, called “Coding in Kindergarten.”

Georgia is now applying the lessons that it has learned in its 25 years of Pre-K to improving early education for infants and toddlers.  For example, DECAL has begun piloting subsidy grants to high quality early child care centers.  These grants provide a certain number of funded slots for infants and toddlers.

Watch this video to learn more about how Georgia’s Pre-K Program has evolved over the years.