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Celebrating 20 years of pre-K
Jack Hill reads to students at Langston Chapel
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To help celebrate Georgia Pre-K week, State Senator Jack Hill reads to Langston Chapel Elementary School Pre-K classes Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

State Sen. Jack Hill marked the 20th anniversary of prekindergarten programs in the Georgia on Friday with a trip to Langston Chapel Elementary School to read to Bulloch County students.
His visit was during a week in which Gov. Nathan Deal and more than 100 other lawmakers spread across the state to visit some of Georgia’s 3,900 pre-K classrooms and their students.
The week’s events commemorate a 1992 decision by state legislators to give Georgia the nation’s first voluntary pre-K program open to any 4-year-old regardless of family income. The program is funded by the sale of lottery tickets and has served more than 1.2 million children since its launch.
On Friday, Hill sat at the front Stephanie Joyner’s pre-K classroom and read aloud a pair of books to more than 60 youngsters from three pre-K classes.
In the classroom loudly decorated for pre-K’s 20th birthday, with children wearing hand-made birthday hats, Hill led students through a prehistoric adventure — in Stella Blackstone’s “I Dreamt I was A Dinosaur” — and shared the story of a worried feline’s first day of school — in “Splat the Cat” by Rob Scotton.
Hill, who read to Effingham County students earlier in the week, said he was happy to accept the school’s invitation to visit.
“To see kids being exposed to learning, and be excited about it, rejuvenates you a little bit,” he said. “It makes you really appreciate the hard work teachers and administrators put in; it also helps redeem your faith in education and remind you why we all do this. There’s nothing in more enthusing than watching pre-K kids learn and interact in a classroom.” 
Langston Chapel Elementary Principal Karen Doty gave Hill, who paused reading several times to interact with children and show off illustrations, a passing grade.
“We were thrilled to have him here. He did a great job and is a wonderful teacher,” Doty said. “He really got into it.”
This year, the state will invest more than $300 million to serve approximately 84,000 prekindergarten learners.
The National Institute for Early Education Research identified Georgia’s pre-K program as one of the few nationwide that meets all 10 research-based quality standards. However, the institute noted in a news release accompanying the report earlier this year that the state’s decision to shorten the school year and cut funding put Georgia’s rank in the future in doubt.
“The pre-k program is probably the best investment we make in education,” Hill said. “It is a tremendous thing for children. It really is. All you have to do is sit in one of these classes to realize it.”
Despite the program’s success, lawmakers have implement budget cuts, initiated by Deal and intended to preserve long-term viability of pre-k and the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, that have cut short prekindergarten school years and increased class sizes.
Ten calendar days have been removed from the academic year in 2012-13.
“We are struggling with the balance of the college scholarship portion of the money, so the chances of funding being increased is really slim,” Hill said, about restoring a full year (180 days) in the future. “Maybe, as time goes by, we’ll figure something out.”
The senator said he has a different hope for sustaining the program.
“We sure want to keep prekindergarten fully funded,” he said. “I, personally, would like to eventually see the pre-k program implemented into the regular education curriculum.”

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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