Part II: Preschool Teacher Nosedive

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.

Georgia had a shaky track record of hiring and retaining child-care workers before the pandemic forced preschools and daycares to close in March 2020. The state’s preschools for four-year-old children lost around 34% of their workforce between 2017 and 2020, according to state Department of Labor data. Daycare programs serving children from infancy to three-years-old faced an even worse trend, with a 40% drop in staff numbers from 2014 to 2020.

Georgia’s child-care workforce dropped by 20% between 2017 and 2020. (Credit: Brittany Phan for State Affairs)

Overall, Georgia lost more than 6,000 preschool and daycare workers from 2017 through 2020 – a 20% decline, state labor data shows. With fewer teachers, local preschools can’t enroll as many four-year-old children as they would like since the state caps classroom sizes at 22 kids. The nonprofit Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Student (GEEARS) estimated child-care enrollment fell 22% between March 2020 and mid-2021. Wait lists have grown for preschools like the Bells Ferry Learning Center that have children ready to enroll but not enough teachers to meet class-size requirements.

“We have space in our building to enroll more children, but we don’t have staff to care for them,” said Sharon Foster, the program’s director who staffs about 35 teachers at two centers in Cherokee and Cobb counties. “There are waiting lists everywhere for child care.”

Child-care teachers and advocates have also noticed children struggling to reach the same reading and emotional-skills level during the pandemic as they did in years past. The gap gives kids less chance to get a leg up as they head to kindergarten – a key role for preschools, said Ronda Hightower, a Laurens County Schools associate superintendent.

“We are seeing a larger number of our kindergarten kids that we are having to go back and teach rituals and routines with social interactions,” said Hightower, who oversees the district’s pre-k program. “Things that they normally learn in pre-k.”


Part III: Low Wages Hurt Hiring