Georgia currently has one of the longest-standing and most successful early education programs in the country. The 2012-2013 school year marked the 20th year of the state’s preschool service, which served 84,000 students that year. More than 1.3 million four-year-olds have attended the voluntary program. In 2013, the legislature approved a $13 million increase to add 10 days to the preschool year. Georgia’s program has the unique distinction of being largely funded by the state lottery, which has appropriated more than $5 billion since its creation to increase preschool access in the state. Residents of Georgia receive free access to preschool services. The agency, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, has also implemented GELDS (Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards) in an effort to extend educational standards back all the way to birth and create continuity with the state’s K-12 standards.
With a strong statewide preschool program in effect, Georgia has recently turned to expanding access to high-quality early learning experiences for infants and toddlers through the Talk With Me Baby (TWMB) initiative, the product of a robust public-private partnership initially made possible by a United Way grant. Spearheaded by Georgia’s Departments of Health and Education, in partnership with Emory University’s School of Nursing and Department of Pediatrics, the Marcus Autism Center, the Atlanta Speech School, and Get Georgia Reading, TWMB has set an ambitious agenda to ensure that all babies born in Georgia are exposed to a rich language environment, which has lasting effects across learning and development later in life. Specifically, TWMB is training nurses, midwives, and WIC nutritionists on building parents’ capacity in enriching young children’s early language environment; providing training to preschool teachers on enhancing their language and vocabulary instruction in early learning settings; and using technologies to remind parents to use nutrition-related language with their babies. The dynamic program is also undergoing a careful evaluation to ensure continuous quality improvement. By 2017, TWMB projects that it will reach all newborns in the Atlanta metro region, where 61,000 births occur each year; by 2020, the initiative is expected to sweep across Georgia, reaching the 130,000 babies born each year.