Haslam takes a step toward seeking federal pre-k funding

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has issued an intent to apply for federal prekindergarten funds, reports The Tennessean — but a spokesman for the Republican governor said his position on early childhood education in Tennessee hasn’t changed.

That means the governor’s decision on whether to formally pursue federal funds to expand the state’s voluntary pre-K program will come after the completion of an ongoing multi-year study by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute on pre-K effectiveness — a stance he’s kept despite criticism from pre-K advocates.

In an email on Thursday, state education officials notified the federal government of Tennessee’s intent to apply for the federal Preschool Development Grant, which has dangled a total of $250 million to states for pre-K expansion or development.

Tennessee’s chunk would be limited to $17.5 million for each of the next four years under the grant’s guidelines.

“The governor hasn’t changed his position,” Haslam’s press secretary Dave Smith said. “We sent a note of intent to apply because we’re working to understand more about what the state’s long-term role would be when it comes to funding and didn’t want to take Tennessee out of contention at this time.

“To be clear: the governor has said he plans to maintain current state pre-K programs and would review any possible changes after the longitudinal study is completed.”

Haslam has continued to fund the state’s pre-K program, but has not widened it to reach more low-income children as Democrats have long pushed. The program originally launched in the 1990s and hasn’t increased substantially since 2005.

…Notices to apply for the federal grant were due on Monday. Thirty-two states have done so, including 23 for expansion like Tennessee. Tennessee submitted its application one day after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, during a visit to Tennessee, urged the state to seek pre-K expansion funds.

Tennessee Department of Education Director of Communications Kelli Gauthier said the formal application would be due in about a month.

“Before then, we’ll need to learn more about the sustainability of the program and whether it would make sense for Tennessee.”

Note: Post Duncan urging Tennessee go for pre-k money is HERE.