Georgia’s Economy Turns on Abilities of Children 0 – 8

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State Leaders Step up Investments in Early Learning

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By the Numbers in Georgia

55% of children ages 0-8 live below 200% of the poverty level, giving Georgia one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

60% of low-income children ages 3-4 are not enrolled in pre-school. Though we have room to improve, Georgia beats the national average of 63% not enrolled in pre-school.

Georgia’s children are less likely to skip developmental screening than children nationally. Though 62% of children in Georgia ages 0-6 did not receive the screening, the national rate is 70%, which ranks Georgia 8th in the nation.

The nation is failing to invest enough in its children’s early years, leaving them unprepared to succeed in school and life. This warning comes from a new report the Annie E. Casey Foundation released today, titled, The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success. Decades of brain and child development research show that kids who enter kindergarten with below-average language and cognitive ability need support to develop their social, emotional and learning skills.

“Learning gaps can perpetuate the poverty cycle, because they often persist long beyond elementary school,” said Gaye Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP). “Without access to strong foundational resources, children who fall behind struggle to catch up in school and graduate on time, and they have a harder time becoming economically stable adults.”

Low-income children are much less likely to reach early cognitive milestones than children from higher income families. That is especially troubling for Georgia, a state with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, where 55 percent of children ages 0-8 live below 200 percent of the poverty level. According to the report, children of color are less likely to be on track for cognitive developmental milestones. By third grade, five times more black children and four times more Hispanic children don’t meet Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) standards, compared with white children. The cognitive gaps for low-income and minority children are even larger when measured against national test standards.

The good news is Georgia has already stepped up its investment in children’s early years.

“Despite a high poverty rate, more of Georgia’s low-income children are enrolled in preschool and are receiving developmental screenings than in states faring better economically,” said Smith. That’s because our leaders are devoting more resources to support high-quality early childhood programs that include supports for families.”

The Casey report calls for increasing support to parents, increasing access to high-quality birth through age 8 programs targeted at low-income children, and stresses the importance of comprehensive systems and programs that work to address child development and support the transition to elementary school. While Georgia must still improve on several key measures, the state has demonstrated a commitment to its youngest, most vulnerable citizens.

“For more than two decades, Georgia’s leaders have recognized the importance of investing in the education of our youngest citizens,” said Dept. of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Bobby Cagle. “Gov. Nathan Deal often says that early childhood education is the foundation for future economic development. He has demonstrated his commitment to quality early care and education through policy innovations, such as implementing Georgia’s Quality Rated—a voluntary program that assigns a rating to early education and school-age care programs that meet program standards—and through investing financial resources even during difficult economic times. Georgia will continue to build on the legacy of strategic investment in children as the state’s number one natural resource.”

Quality pre-k prepares children for successful transition into elementary school, while developmental screenings can catch mental, social, and other delays in time to implement early interventions. Georgia’s investments in early education are becoming apparent at the pre-k level, and continued commitment to these investments could narrow learning gaps in third grade and beyond.

“Georgia is fortunate to have elected leaders who understand the critical role that early childhood education plays—not only in a child’s academic career—but also in his or her ability to find success as part of our state’s workforce,” said Georgia Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark. “Our organization will continue to support the efforts of Gov. Nathan Deal and other key stakeholders who are committed to ensuring access to quality early learning programs for children throughout our state.”

There is a significant connection between supporting children in their earliest years and strengthening the skilled workforce and economy Georgia needs to prosper. Georgia’s leaders have already begun to prioritize programs with proven benefits for children in the prenatal-to-age -5 spectrum, their parents, and the state, and Georgia is ramping up a statewide campaign to ensure that all children are reading on grade level by third grade. By continuing to strengthen its investment in quality early education—with a focus on children from low- to moderate-income families and other children at risk for school failure, and by tracking their progress—Georgia will achieve the best return on investment for our state.

Read The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success.

For interactive statewide data, visit Georgia KIDS COUNT at

Rebecca Rice
Georgia KIDS COUNT Coordinator
404-527-7394 (x103)

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director
404-527-7394 (x113)

Follow us on Twitter @gafcpnews.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public-private partnership created by the State of Georgia and funders from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families. Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that impact Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities. Georgia KIDS COUNT is funded, in part, through a grant from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

The KIDS COUNT Data Center is a comprehensive source of information where you can download this year’s complete Data Book and access the new mobile site being launched using your smart phone.