Part IV: Georgia Lottery Reserves Soar

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.

Amid money challenges, many teachers and advocates have eyed the lottery as a potential source to increase wages. A chunk of ticket sales from the lottery funds Georgia’s universal preschool program, totaling $382 million for preschools this year, plus another $937 million to fund the HOPE and Zell Miller college scholarships.

The state also pocketed more than $1.6 billion in lottery reserves last fiscal year, of which around two-thirds sat in an “unrestricted” reserve account that state lawmakers could have spent on preschools, but didn’t. Those usable reserves – roughly $1.05 billion – swelled between 72% and 95% annually over the last decade, starting at about $160 million in 2011, treasury records show.

Georgia has more than $1 billion in lottery reserves that could be used to help fund preschool programs teacher salaries. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)

Preschool advocates point out that drawing down those reserves could pump another $304 million into Georgia preschools – nearly doubling last year’s entire budget. That money could give a shot in the arm to low-paid assistant preschool teachers struggling to make ends meet while the prospect of steady pay at Walmart and Target looms, said GEEARS’s executive director, Mindy Binderman.

“We have an opportunity to address teacher pay,” Binderman said. “We have an opportunity to address program quality and ensure the costs of providing great [preschools] are met.”

To survive the pandemic, Georgia preschools relied on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief to help keep most preschools and daycares from closing, partly through grants to shore up operations and one-time $1,000 bonuses for staff. That federal pot is set to expire in 2024, leaving many preschool directors hesitant to raise teacher wages without longer-term dollars.

“We’ve at least managed to keep our child-care centers open,” Binderman said. “Now, we need to not only stabilize but also ensure we can come out strong on the other end.”


Part V: Hesitancy in the Legislature