Donors line up for South Rome ELC

State al­low­ing tax­pay­ers to di­rect part of taxes to a pri­vate school

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner DWag­[email protected]

The pre­sen­ta­tion sparked state Rep. Katie Dempsey’s mem­o­ries of her first year as a stu­dent teacher, in 1974, at Anna K. Davie El­e­men­tary.

“We had 30-plus stu­dents that had never been to school be­fore and all we did the whole fall was tell chil­dren to sit down,” she told a room­ful of po­ten­tial donors to the South Rome Early Learn­ing Cen­ter.

The non­profit ELC was launched in 2015 to pre­pare lo­cal 3-year-olds so­cially, emo­tion­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally for kinder­garten. It holds a top, three-star rat­ing from the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Early Care and Learn­ing and there are con­crete signs of its suc­cess in the com­mu­nity.

“Our first class is now in first grade and they are out­per­form­ing their peers. We don’t have ac­cess to the data, but the lit­er­acy coach at Anna K. is track­ing their progress,” said Jackie McDow­ell, the Berry Col­lege dean who headed the col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort with the South Rome Re­de­vel­op­ment Corp. and Rome City Schools.

There are two full classes with 38 stu­dents, and a wait­ing list that shows the need for more. A sub­sidy grant from the state funds 10 full-tu­ition schol­ar­ships — “for the most needy chil­dren and their fam­i­lies,” McDow­ell said — with pri­or­ity given to those in South Rome.

“But, through­out this, I think the big­gest sur­prise has been the parental in­volve­ment,” she said, ex­plain­ing the par­ent ed­u­ca­tion sem­i­nars and pro­grams they of­fer as part of the cur­ricu­lum.

This will be the first year the South Rome ELC is el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in the state tax-credit pro­gram for pri­vate schools. Sup­port­ers are hop­ing donors will sign on, to pro­vide money for more schol­ar­ships.

“There is noth­ing more pro­found than the op­por­tu­nity you’ll be giv­ing to the chil­dren who grow up here to work, to grow and to thrive,” Dempsey said fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion hosted by the SRRC Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Rick Gil­bert, who chairs the Ge­or­gia GOAL Schol­ar­ship Pro­gram board, said the tax-credit pro­gram is sim­ple — “and won’t cost you a cent.”

Es­tab­lished by the state leg­is­la­ture as an out­growth of the school choice move­ment, it al­lows tax­pay­ers to re­di­rect to a pri­vate school part of the in­come tax they owe. Darlington School, Unity Chris­tian School, and Berry Col­lege El­e­men­tary and Mid­dle School are al­ready get­ting schol­ar­ship money from the pro­gram, Gil­bert said.

There’s a cap on the do­na­tions, raised to $100 mil­lion this year. Op­po­nents ar­gue that it saps state fund­ing for pub­lic schools, but SRRC board mem­ber Sam Moss said there’s a lo­cal ben­e­fit.

“Iron­i­cally, by di­rect­ing your money to a pri­vate school, the Early Learn­ing Cen­ter, you’re ac­tu­ally help­ing the pub­lic schools that will be teach­ing those kids,” Moss said.

The dead­line to ap­ply is Dec. 15.

Gil­bert’s non­profit is one of the qual­i­fied stu­dent schol­ar­ship or­ga­ni­za­tions that dis­trib­utes the funds. Donors can get de­tails and sign up on­line at www.goalschol­ar­ship.org.

/ Diane Wag­ner

It’s clay time Wed­nes­day for South Rome Early Learn­ing Cen­ter 3-year-olds Matthias Dowdy (from left), Draya Mad­den and Jor­dan Ter­rell as De’Ri­ayah Driver shows Di­rec­tor Teri Oberg her sculp­ture so far.

/ Diane Wag­ner

Allyson Cham­bers, lead teacher at the South Rome Early Learn­ing Cen­ter, asks Aubrey Un­der­wood to pick out the yel­low num­ber dur­ing a group ex­er­cise Wed­nes­day as Za’Karri Win­ston (from left), Jeremiah Sewell and Hunter Mills wait their turns.

Jackie McDow­ell

/ Diane Wag­ner

Jai Foote, a stu­dent worker from Berry Col­lege, learns to jug­gle the at­ten­tions of 3-year-olds dur­ing a fish­ing game teach­ing mo­tor skills Wed­nes­day at the South Rome Early Learn­ing Cen­ter with Tys­jae Brown (from left), Nyah Ware, Jay­den McKnight and Chris­tian Peter­son.

Sam Moss

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