ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal said he wants to spend $50 million to reverse cuts to Georgia's pre-kindergarten program that increased class sizes and cut teacher pay.
The Republican governor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the specifics are still in the works.
"We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-k program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools," Deal said. "Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-k program."
In 2011, Deal and state lawmakers cut the pre-kindergarten program's school year by 20 days to save money. The maximum classroom size was raised from 20 to 22 students. A 180-day school calendar has since been restored, but class sizes remain the same.
Deal said he plans to get the extra funding from a lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million last year, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. Deal previously opposed requests to tap the fund.
"The scare we've seen just this past week with the stock market is a reminder that we always should err on the side of being cautious," the governor said Friday. "But when we do have the money available, we need to do what we can to spend it wisely."
Early childhood education experts welcomed Deal's proposal. The director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, Steve Barnett, said Georgia's reputation as a leader in early education was severely damaged as days were cut, class sizes were increased and experienced teachers fled. The pre-k program still has trouble retaining its teachers. The program now keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent when the brunt of the cuts took effect.
Some Democratic lawmakers have urged Deal to spend the lottery funding differently. State Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, wants the state to cover a gap between the financial aid that technical college students receive and the cost of their tuition. She said the funding would only total a few hundred dollars a semester for most tech school students.
"The difference in funding is sometimes only $400 or $500, and it's the difference between completing a program and someone not completing it," Evans said. "And anything we can do to drive more people into the doors of a technical college is going to result in more people in unfilled jobs."