Tennessee would receive $64.3 million in federal funds – to be matched with $6.4 million in state dollars – to provide pre-kindergarten classes to another 7,861 children under President Obama’s “Preschool for All” program, according to a White House estimate released Wednesday.
A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam says the governor will review the proposal, but is waiting for a Vanderbilt University study of pre-k effectiveness before making a final decision. The study, launched in 2009, will not complete its first stage until next year.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, a leading critic of pre-k programs in the state Legislature, said Wednesday the state should ignore the federal offer. He also voiced skepticism about the Vanderbilt study.
Tennessee now has a voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of low-family income. It will provide $85 million in funding for the current year to fund 935 pre-k classes enrolling about 18,000 students statewide, according to state Department of Education figures.
Obama’s proposal calls for providing $75 billion nationwide over a 10-year period to expand pre-k enrollment with new funding to come from an increase in federal cigarette taxes.
An effort to get 4-year-olds ready for school may be about to receive a fresh push from the federal government, but it faces stiff resistance from Republicans in Tennessee, observes Chas Sisk. Before pre-K could expand, a lot of details would have to be filled in. Obama has not been quick to do so.
A summary released by the White House calls for making pre-K available to all families making 200 percent of the federal poverty line or less, a population that includes more than half the 4-year-olds in the country. Obama has also praised programs such as those in Georgia and Oklahoma that are open to all of the state’s 4-year-olds, regardless of family income.
But his statements suggest Obama would like the states to come up with their own plans for making pre-K more available. He has not specified how the costs would be shared between the state and the federal government.
….Haslam said he spoke with Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan about pre-K expansion during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We obviously would have to see: Does it come with a lot of strings attached?” Haslam said. “There wasn’t a whole lot else that they could reveal to us.”
State Rep. Bill Dunn, one of pre-K’s fiercest critics in the legislature, said the cost of expanding the program could crowd out investments in other areas of public education.
“It’s been tried, and I think there’s a better use of the money,” he said. “The federal government is broke. … A program that has been proven not to be very effective — to go deeper in debt — that is not a wise choice.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey shares that skepticism.
“If the president actually proposes that, let’s take a look at it,” he said. “But my general philosophy would be universal pre-K is a colossal waste of money, and why borrow money to do it?”
But the proposal has its backers. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he believes lawmakers are growing more receptive to suggestions that the state expand pre-K.
“At a national level, we certainly know pre-K is effective,” Fitzhugh said. “I know there’s a few colleagues of mine in the House that haven’t felt that way, but I do believe that the tide is turning a bit because the empirical evidence is just there.”
Haslam said that data, including the results from Vanderbilt study, will help him make up his mind on expansion.
“Is pre-K effective or not?” Haslam said. “We’ll have our own data to compare to. I’ll feel a lot better about using that to make our decision.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic leaders said Wednesday that they plan to talk with Gov. Bill Haslam about expanding pre-kindergarten classes after the state’s education commissioner said he doesn’t plan to request funding for an expansion.
Commissioner Kevin Huffman spoke earlier this week during the governor’s budget hearings. Haslam has asked state departments to develop plans for a 5 percent cut in spending as a fallback.
The Commercial Appeal reported Huffman said expanding enrollment in schools and inflation will require an additional $2 million in routine cost increases.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told The Associated Press on Wednesday that pre-K is needed and that he plans to talk to the governor and consider legislation to expand it.
“Pre-K has been successful here in Tennessee,” Turner said. “I think it’s time to expand it again. I think you’ll see legislation coming from us to do that, and I’m sure we’ll talk to the governor about it.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee education officials say they will not apply for up to $60 million in federal funds for early childhood education because the requirements don’t meet the state’s needs.
Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman told The Commercial Appeal that it’s hard to understand why the state wouldn’t want to get more money from the Race to the Top education grant program that already gave Tennessee $500 million to reform schools (http://bit.ly/oTdzsP ).
The main reason not to apply, Huffman said, is that the money can’t be used to expand existing pre-kindergarten services.
“We want to be very careful in the current fiscal environment not to take on additional activities we can’t sustain financially,” Huffman said.
But advocates from Memphis and other places are urging state leaders to invest in early childhood education.
When the Obama administration announced the $500 competition for the funds in March, governors from about 35 states expressed interest. Tennessee was not among them.
Tennessee Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said he and other early childhood education advocates hope to talk with state education officials next week.
“The one place we can’t afford to cut corners on is investing in our babies,” Hardaway said. “We know that the smartest dollars we spend are at that age,” Hardaway said.
Governor Bill Haslam says he isn’t ready to cut back on the state’s pre-kindergarten education effort, even if a fellow Republican is ready to label the program a “hoax,” reports WPLN. Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn, a long-time critic of the state’s fledgling pre-K program, says a new state report indicates the program is “gobbling up and wasting valuable resources.” He said Pre-K may be “the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the people of Tennessee.”
But Governor Haslam says the recently completed report from the state Comptroller’s office is “a little bit of a mixed message.” He notes that it calls for further study.
“We’re not going to have any additional money to put in, probably, next year, for Pre-K, anyway, so my suggestion would be that about a year from now, when we have a little bit more data, let’s get a great survey, track that, and then make some decisions off of it.”
The governor says he wants more targeted data, taken by an “objective” outside group tracking students over a longer period of time.
The state’s Pre-K program started in only a few counties in 2005 but reached 94 counties by the fall of 2009. Those students are now going into the second grade.
In his comments, the governor also cited a previous study by Vanderbilt University which he said gave “a more positive spin” to the Pre-K effort.
(Note: Expands earlier post)
The final report in a lengthy study on the impact of pre-kindergarten classes on students in Tennessee states that the program not only should be continued for at-risk children, but “should be complemented with additional support and intervention for students over time.”
But state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, issued a news release Tuesday declaring that the report shows pre-K efforts are “gobbling up and wasting valuable resources” that would be better spent on other educational endeavors.
“This report should serve as a revelation for individuals who still believe pre-K is some sort of answer for long-term achievement in education,” said Dunn. “The fact is, it just isn’t. It may be the largest hoax ever perpetrated on the people of Tennessee.”
The study uses data collected from testing of students since Tennessee’s pre-K program was launched in 1998 as a pilot program. It was prepared by Strategic Research Group, working with the state comptroller’s office.
Contrary to previous studies on Tennessee’s pre-K program, new research from Vanderbilt University shows huge student gains, particularly in reading, reports WPLN. An often-quoted report by the state comptroller published last year finds pre-K has some effect, but primarily in disadvantaged students. According to that study, even those gains diminish over time.
Vanderbilt professor Dale Farran calls the state’s study “fundamentally flawed.” Her research assesses children before they attend a state-funded pre-K classroom, then matches results a year later with students who met income requirements but didn’t get in.
“Now we have a comparison of children whose parents were interested in pre-K, whose children were similar. And we look at across the pre-K year and find that it makes a substantial difference in those children’s literacy and math skills.” The five-year study will eventually see if those improvements do wear off, but Farran says any fade-out may say more about first and second grade than pre-K.