The Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS) and their partners successfully beat back proposed budget cuts to Georgia’s nationally recognized, lottery-funded pre-k program, which has served over 1.6 million children in its 28-year history and employs over 7,500 teachers annually.
In response to falling state revenues due to COVID-19, this spring all state agencies, with no exceptions, were directed to submit recommendations for 14% budget cuts. Although revenue from the Georgia Lottery remained steady throughout the crisis, the required cuts proposed by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning totaled approximately $53 million and would have reduced pre-k instructional days from 180 to 167, eliminated approximately 180 classrooms, and cut 4,000 slots from the program.
In the month since the cuts were proposed, GEEARS and their partners have been working tirelessly to combat the proposal. Their “action alert” on the cuts generated over 10,000 emails to legislators, and GEEARS’s advocates had personal conversations with the House and Senate leadership, raised the concerns about the potential impact of the cuts in the media, and shared critical information and talking points with partners to support their advocacy.
Through strong relationships with legislators, evidence of the efficacy of the Georgia Pre-K program, 10 years of results from polls that indicate voter support, and economic evidence that especially resonated in the current environment, the efforts prevailed. When the Senate Appropriations Chair reported the committee’s budget recommendations, he announced that there would be no cuts to pre-k slots or classrooms. This recommendation held throughout the rest of budget negotiations.
In addition to preserving funding for Georgia Pre-K, the budget also included funding to add a new Infant and Early Child Mental Health (IECMH) position at the state Department of Early Care and Learning as well as funding for 6 months of postpartum Medicaid coverage. These were both direct recommendations from the House IECMH Study Committee that GEEARS worked to support.
“The inclusion of these priorities speaks to the power of the Study Committee and the effect it had on key members of the budget writing team, who advocated for these additions despite a bleak economic outlook. We absolutely would not have made this progress without the Alliance’s support for our grassroots work,” said Mindy Binderman, GEEARS executive director.
Despite many victories, the budget also included major cuts to education and children’s mental health services, so while GEEARS and their allies are celebrating these wins, they are also making plans for future advocacy in support of Georgia’s children.