Demand high in Bibb County for pre-K, but space limited in public schools


Grant Blankenship, GPB

A mix of pre-k and other students arrive at Ingram Pye Elementary School in Macon in November 2020.

Bibb County Schools is set to open the lottery for pre-kindergarten enrollment at the end of January.

Demand for pre-K has been consistently high over the past decade and applications for the lottery do not guarantee enrollment.

“Every single year, usually we get well over 1,300 applications,” said Bibb County Schools Director of Elementary Services Olena Stadnik. “We normally have at least 400-500 kids more to apply than we have available.”

Parents may apply to either the elementary school for which their child is zoned or one of the district’s magnet schools, which include: Northwoods Academy, Vineville Academy, Alexander II, Burdell-Hunt and Heard elementary schools. Transportation is provided to students who attend pre-K at their zoned elementary school.

The school district provides a list of alternative local pre-K options to parents whose children are placed on the waitlist.

Applications may be submitted on the school district’s website from Jan. 31 through Feb. 18. The lottery drawing is set for Feb. 24-25. The district will notify parents via mail and email whether applications were accepted.

Another resource for parents looking for pre-K classes is Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning.

DECAL launched its Quality Rated program a decade ago to increase the number of and access to high-quality early education for the state’s youngest residents.

All licensed child care programs, with the exception of local school districts and a few other exempt providers, are eligible to participate in the voluntary rating system. Quality Rated programs have “demonstrated a commitment to meeting standards that exceed state health and safety requirements,” according to DECAL, but a rating of one to three stars provides further detail.

A program with a one star rating “meets several quality benchmarks and scores sufficiently on the independent observation.” A two-star program “meets many quality benchmarks and scores well on the independent observation. A three-star program “meets numerous quality benchmarks and scores high on the independent observation,” according to DECAL.

Quality Rated programs found to be deficient are suspended and offered free technical support and training by DECAL to come back into good standing. Ones that do not are removed from the Quality Rated website.

Georgia began offering free, statewide pre-K in 1995. Bibb County Schools has offered pre-K since 1996, Stadnik said.

There are 10,543 children 5 years old or younger who live in Bibb County, according to the 2020 census. There are 109 child care providers in Bibb County with a combined capacity of 6,487, according to DECAL. Programs at private schools and ones that are unlicensed are not included in that figure.

In March 2020, there were 949 pre-K students enrolled in Bibb County Schools, the largest enrollment reported in the past decade. Meanwhile, kindergarten enrollment in Bibb Schools has steadily declined over the past 10 years, according to enrollment data from the Georgia Department of Education.

Statewide, pre-K and kindergarten enrollment decreased by 12.8% and 9.4%, respectively in the 2019-2020 school year, according to a November report by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. Nationally, enrollment in preschool and kindergarten fell by 13% from 2020 to 2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Georgia legislature in 2011 began funding a series of on-going longitudinal studies that compare outcomes of Georgia students who attended pre-K to students who did not. The studies, conducted by the University of North Carolina, show children who attended pre-K had better outcomes in decision-making, focus, learning and literacy than children who did not.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an error in the spelling of Olena Stadnik’s name.