“If you care about crime, economic development…you have to care about the kids in your town,” said Courtney English, the mayor’s senior policy adviser and former school board chair. “It requires the city and APS to work hand in hand.”
In a statement, APS said it was pleased with the city’s “enormous commitment” and said the district would provide details of its own funding plan in early fall. The city asked APS to contribute $5 million.
Under previous administrations, the city and APS have clashed over control of school property titles and the use of school property taxes to pay for redevelopment projects.
Dickens has pledged to partner with the district of 50,000 students. He asked Superintendent Lisa Herring to become honorary co-chair of his transition team. In another gesture of goodwill, the mayor spoke at the school board’s swearing-in ceremony in January, describing the city as an ally.
Dickens’ plan for early education aims to better prepare children for school. City officials say access to quality childcare and educational offerings for children ages 3 and under will boost literacy and enable greater social mobility.
But thousands of Atlanta parents cannot access those programs, English said. In Georgia, the average cost of infant care is $711 per month, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem. Providers faced staff shortages and centers closed due to the virus.
In a GEARS Survey 2021 out of 400 Georgian parents of young children, a third of respondents said they or a family member had to quit or not take a job or change their job significantly in the past year due to problems of child care. That’s up from 26% in 2018.
The Early Years Fund will provide grants of up to $75,000 to licensed early childhood education providers in Atlanta. The money can be used to improve facilities, train teachers and pay for business coaching.
A bursary program, to be launched around September, will help low-income families and front-line workers pay for early childhood programs. The funds will also be used for incentives to help retain child care workers.
Michele Hill, owner of KIDazzle Child Care, has struggled to find experienced workers to staff her centers, including three in Atlanta. She has children on a waiting list.
Hill recently received a $25,000 grant from Promise All Atlanta Children Thrive, a group of public and private entities convened by GEARS to advocate for early education. The money will help pay for a long-awaited $71,000 renovation of a center.
PAACT, leveraging this grantmaking experience, will coordinate city-supported scholarship and grant programs. Hill hopes that more funding and the city’s focus will shine a light on how important his industry is to the economy.
“We feel a bit taken for granted, then comes a pandemic and people can’t go to work,” she said.
Benefits of early childhood programs
According to the nonprofit start earlychildren who participate in quality early learning are: