Part V: Hesitancy in the Legislature

Credit: Paige McKay Kubik

Nov 03, 2021
Key Points
  • Georgia’s preschools workforce dropped by roughly 20% from 2017 to 2020.
  • Preschool directors and advocates say many teachers have left for higher-paying jobs at Target and Walmart.
  • The state has more than $1 billion in Lottery reserves that could be used to boost funding for local preschools but hasn’t been touched.

State budget writers say tapping lottery reserves could put preschools and scholarships at risk if another pandemic-level economic crisis hits Georgia. House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, who heads budget talks in the General Assembly, said lawmakers need to guarantee they can maintain long-term salary increases for preschools before drawing down reserves.

 “If it’s a sustained trend, then we’ll entertain some options,” said England, a Republican representing parts of Gwinnett and Barrow counties. “But if it’s looking like a one-time thing, we’re going to be much more cautious and guarded about those reserves.”

England also said lawmakers need an official green light from Gov. Brian Kemp before they could touch lottery reserves – and that’s a daunting proposition. In the last three decades, the General Assembly’s only major change to lottery-backed programs involved reducing college scholarship award amounts. Instead, England said lawmakers and the governor have started talks about possible across-the-board raises for state employees, which Kemp’s office declined to discuss in detail.

Amid hopes for salary raises, preschool teachers like Heather Melillo stress the importance of early child-care education not only for working parents who need help with their kids during the day, but also for Georgia’s children to have academic success for years to come.

“We are the ones who are going to give them their social and emotional learning,” said Melillo, a former “Georgia Pre-K Teacher of the Year” who teaches at West End Elementary School in Floyd County. “We teach them skills that they’re going to need for their entire lives.”

What else do you want to know about Georgia preschools and lottery funding? Share your thoughts/tips by emailing [email protected].