RICHMOND HILL, GA (WTOC) - A program that's provided a foundation for young children in Georgia is strapped for cash and continues to have some big challenges.
Over the past year, the Georgia's pre-k program has faced some major cuts because not enough people are buying lottery tickets to support the program and pay the teachers salaries.
In order to save it, Gov. Nathan Deal added more students to the program but cut the number of days students are in the classroom.
Rep. Ron Stephens, who's campaigned to keep the program, visited Richmond Hill Montessori Preschool to see all of the hard work that is taking place in the classroom.
WTOC tagged along as he bounded from class to class, even spending some time reading to students.
"I'm one of those believers. We should focus on the pre-k. Also, if you miss that window of education early it's gone forever," said Stephens.
Stephens said that the lottery system is broken at this point and changes were needed. He said that cutting the number of classroom days from 180 to 160 had to happen in order to keep this vital program going. He says the Governor's hands were tied and it was either add more students and cut the days or eliminate the program all together. Eliminating the program would have meant hundreds of thousands of students in Georgia wouldn't be in state funded pre-k at all.
"We made some changes to hopefully keep the lottery. We will freeze it at the current level and continue to have the dollars for all these kids down the road," said Stephens.
Stephens also talked about how crucial it is that students get the opportunity to build an early foundation.
"I still believe we've got a great program and it's something we need to continue to focus on. We did not eliminate pre-k, it's still the focus on the lottery dollars," said Stephens.
Which is what Audrey Singleton, owner of Richmond Hill Montessori Preschool, likes to hear.
"We want parents to know we are still providing throughout the state of Georgia. We are providing what pre-k should be giving to four year olds," said Singleton.
Again, the Pre-K program was shortened by 20 days. This is better than the state's original plan, which was to cut the class hours in half. For more information on how the pre-k program works visit http://decal.ga.gov/.