A picture drawn by Daphne Cleveland, the daughter of Chris Cleveland and Ania Aleksandra Majewski while her father Chris voted at Clarke Elementary School in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, caroline.barnes3710@gmail.com)

In the past, Georgia was a leader in early childhood education. Georgia began a pilot program for its pre-K program in 1992, and the program became the first in the country to serve over one million “in a voluntary, universal, lottery-funded program.” However, there are signs that Georgia’s status as a leader in early childhood education is slipping. A report found that enrollment in Georgia’s pre-K program stayed about the same, and funding slightly in the 2017-2018 school year. Furthermore, U.S. News and World Report ranks Georgia 31st in the country in pre-K-12th grade education.

A decline in the quality of childhood education would have serious consequences for children and their families, so Georgia must look for ways to restore and improve its programs.

A startling number of Georgia’s young children struggle with the basic skills they need to perform well in school. For example, in 2017, almost two-thirds of third graders failed the English sections of their Georgia Milestones test. The results are significant: according to a study, one in six students who cannot read proficiently by the third grade will not graduate high school on time.

The situation is far from hopeless, however. There is evidence that by investing in early childhood education, Georgia can fix this issue and teach our children the skills critical for their success in school. The Learning Policy Institute reports children who attend preschool are more likely to be ready for school and identified as having special needs and less likely to repeat a grade in elementary school.

Some critics of pre-K believe that the effects of pre-K could begin to disappear, or “fadeout,” over time. However, according to a study from the National Institute for Early Education Research, the benefits for North Carolina children who attended the pre-K program lasted until they became eighth graders, indicating that pre-K can produce long-term improvements.In addition, some advocates argue that quality early childhood education programs can teach children how to behave and interact in classroom settings, enabling them to learn more effectively later on.

Childhood education could also serve as child care for busy parents who need to work. According to the Brookings Institute, 65% of single mothers and 83% of single fathers raising a young child are employed, highlighting the need for childcare. However, childcare services are often unaffordable for lower-income families. This issue forces many low-income parents to make the difficult choice between putting their children in poorly funded childcare services or skipping work.

Georgia has a proud history of leading the way in the United States on childhood education. We must reinvest in our children to ensure families can put their children in places where they are cared for and learning the skills they need to succeed in school.

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