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Posted: March 7, 2011 12:55 p.m.

Deal scales back pre-K cuts

ATLANTA - Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he is revamping his plans to cut the state's prekindergarten program to half-day after an outcry from parents and teachers.

The program will remain a full day but the school year will be cut from 180 days to 160 days, and class sizes will increase by two students to 22 each, Deal said. The moves will allow the state to cut $54 million from the cash-strapped program while adding 2,000 slots, which will put a dent in the 10,000-student waiting list.

The cuts are part of Deal's plan to keep lottery-funded programs - pre-k and the HOPE scholarship - from going broke.

"From day one, we have worked with the full appreciation of the value of having students school ready when they enter kindergarten and on their way to becoming grade-level readers at grade three," Deal said in a news conference at the Capitol. "With this plan, Georgia remains a leader in early education."

Two weeks ago, Deal proposed cutting pre-k to half-day, which drew the ire of families who said they need a full day of care for their 4-year-olds and teachers who said they would have to find other jobs.

The new plan would cut teachers' salaries by 10 percent rather than the 30 percent proposed under the old plan. Preschools and school districts that have pre-k classes will see their funding cut to 94 percent of what they get now, Deal said.

The plan has drawn bipartisan support, including from House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who said she's relieved her concerns about a half-day program were heard.

"No one is going to get everything they want in this process, but certainly for the minority party to be able to come to the table and get real tangible results, that's what we were looking for and that's what we want," Abrams said after standing by Deal's side during the news conference.

Georgia was the first state in the country to offer free full-day pre-k to any 4-year-old, but demand for the program has outgrown revenue from the lottery. Early education advocates said Deal's new plan will maintain that reputation with minimal impact to families and schools.

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