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Pre-k teachers leave to avoid pay cuts

ATLANTA — Cuts to Georgia’s lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program are leading to high teacher turnover, educators say.

Teachers this year have left pre-k programs to avoid a 10 percent, state-ordered pay cut, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

In Fulton County, officials say 57 of 77 pre-kindergarten teachers quit between the last school year and the current one.

In Decatur City Schools, six of nine pre-k teachers left, officials said. In Clayton, it was 31 out of 32 lead teachers.

“Georgia’s reputation as an early childhood leader is tarnished,” said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

“If the best teachers leave, quality will suffer and the benefits will be eroded,” he added. “Serving more children less effectively is no recipe for success.”

The pay cuts are part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to reduce pre-k spending by $54 million this year to cope with shortfalls in lottery funds, which pay for the program.

The cuts to pre-k were made “only out of necessity,” said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal.

“Gov. Deal values the work of Georgia’s pre-k teachers and believers that our early childhood educators are absolutely critical in making sure students get a firm foundation ...,” Mayfield said. “Moving forward, increasing salaries of Georgia’s pre-k teachers will be a top priority for the governor.”

The departure of so many pre-k teachers is a concern, but was not unexpected, said Bobby Cagle, commissioner of Bright from the Start, the agency that oversees the pre-k program.

“This was a component of the conversations that we had during the (General Assembly) session,” Cagle said. “We felt as though when you cut people’s pay they are going to look for a better opportunity if they can, and who can blame them?”