Part I: From Teacher to Cashier

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.

Paige McKay Kubik lost a third of her staff at preschools and daycares she runs through the Frazer Center in Atlanta after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Months later, she found it nearly impossible to hire new teachers – mostly due to competition from better-paying, less stressful jobs behind a cash register.

“Frankly, you could work for Target or Walmart and clock out when you’re done rather than have the stress of caring for young children,” Kubik told State Affairs. “We were losing people to those opportunities and new people weren’t coming in to fill it.”

Georgia’s preschools have lost hundreds of teachers to better-paying jobs before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many children less prepared to start kindergarten and fewer daycare options for thousands of parents to send their kids while they work.

Across the state, child-care workforce numbers have fallen by 20% over the past few years, largely due to low pay that hasn’t kept pace with other industries’ wage hikes, according to local teachers and advocates. They’re worried about what comes next for Georgia’s preschools and daycares after leaning on federal pandemic relief to prop up classrooms – money that’s set to run out in 2024.

At the same time, Georgia has more than $1 billion in Georgia Lottery money for preschools tucked away in the state treasury as reserves for a rainy day. That dollar trove has swelled year over year amid boom times for lottery ticket sales while child-care workers keep quitting, leaving the state’s roughly 2,500 preschools serving more than 70,000 children in a bind.

Amid a pressing need for more funding, many preschool directors and advocates now hope for a change of heart among state lawmakers in the General Assembly who have historically shown little appetite for tampering with the lottery’s money streams.

“It would clearly be helpful to address the teacher shortages we have,” Joe Perreault, a volunteer with the National Association for Family Child Care who lives in Cherokee County, said about tapping more Lottery dollars. “The difficulty of finding qualified teachers is a very serious problem, and much of it has to do with having higher wages.”


Part II: Preschool Teacher Nosedive