The state of Georgia spent more than $216 million on a program to help low-income children get ready for kindergarten, and yet state auditors cannot find any proof that the program is working, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The program in question is aimed at “at-risk” children — a number that applies to about 40,000 of the 78,000 children enrolled in the state’s pre-k program and whose families qualify for welfare or other similar programs.
That story raises questions about the audit and its methods in Georgia, which in 1995 became the first state in the country to provide pre-k to all four year olds in the state who want to participate.The story notes that state auditors could not evaluate how effective the program is because it did not track how well the children served in the program performed in kindergarten.
The study follows yet another inconclusive study by Georgia State University researchers in 2005-06, although other studies have described many benefits and Georgia is still considered a leader in early childhood education.
What is happening in these programs? Along with auditors, journalists need to ask questions about the quality of programs in the state. Why aren’t children being tracked more efficiently to yield answers and what kind of research is needed to make sure answers are forthcoming? According to Pre-K Now,
Georgia served some 74,000 four-year-olds during the 2008-09 school year. What difference will it make to children now that the state is requiring all teachers to have a child developement associate certificate>? How will programs that serve poor and needy children be evaluated in the future so lawmakers, taxpayers and the general public understand more about how they are working?