U.S. Education Secretary Duncan calls for pre-k expansion in TN

In a visit to Chattanooga Tuesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that Tennessee should take advantage of federal funding available to expand pre-kindergarten programs, reports the Times-Free Press.

Gov. Bill Haslam has so far declined to do so and some Republican legislators have vocally opposed the idea.

“There’s not a state that I go to that does not have a waiting list (for pre-k classes),” Duncan told an audience of about 1,000 parents, educators and officials gathered in the gymnasium of the Chambliss Center for Children off Germantown Road in Brainerd.

Duncan would like to fix that. He said federal grant money is available to boost the number of prekindergarten classes around the country.

“Hopefully, Tennessee is going to participate in that,” Duncan said. “Applications are due in another month. It could mean as much as $70 million [over four years].”

Duncan said that every dollar spent on prekindergarten education shows a $7 return on investment, because early education reduces such problems as crime and teen pregnancy.

“If we can get the kids off to a good start, it changes their lives forever,” said Duncan. “To me, this is just a triumph of common sense. Too many children start kindergarten a year to 18 months behind.”

…Duncan said that it’s important for communities to spread the word about prekindergarten education in such places as barber shops, beauty salons and churches.

“This is a campaign,” he said.

Duncan kicked off his visit by reading “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” on an iPad, followed by Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?” to a Chambliss Center class of 3- and 4-year-olds taught by Kisha Fifer.

Note/update: See also TNReport, which has more detail and some video.