Tag Archives: pre-kindergarten

Dunn backs pre-kindergarten (well, sorta)

State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, probably the most vocal critic of the state’s pre-kindergarten program, gave it a “second chance” by supporting extension legislation in committee, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

The bill (HB1485), which would help require certain “best practices” in pre-k classrooms, passed and now goes to the House Education Instruction and Programming Committee. The support of Dunn means the legislation likely has overcome its most formidable hurdle in the House.

“It tries to make the best out of a situation that I think, if you look at the Vanderbilt study, should cause a lot of concerns to people,” Dunn said before the vote.

His reluctant support reflects the key lawmaker’s acquiescence to the commitment of Gov. Bill Haslam and the State Department of Education to improving the state’s pre-K program, viewed as a significant tool in closing the achievement gap. Rather than offering a knee-jerk response to the troubling Vanderbilt study that questioned the power of pre-K, Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen have taken a measured approach directed at refining the program.

…The legislation addresses some of the researchers’ takeaways, including concerns about the quality of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program, an initial lack of investment in teacher development, and a transition to possibly mediocre early elementary school programs.

Specifically, the proposal also calls for developing a plan to better coordinate between pre-K classrooms and elementary schools so that elementary-grade instruction builds upon pre-K classroom experiences; engaging parents and families of students throughout the school year; and delivering relevant and meaningful professional development for teachers.

Note: This post is revised from the original version, reflecting a revision by Chalkbeat in its original report.

GOP senators eye cutbacks in pre-k program

Some senators say they would like to begin scaling back the state’s pre-kindergarten program in light of a Vanderbilt University study, reports Richard Locker, apparently putting them at odds with Gov. Bill Haslam.

The governor told the state Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday that he’d prefer to examine whether the program lacks the quality needed to have lasting academic impacts on disadvantaged children or if the questions raised by the study released last month are more systemic.

…Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, told the governor that the Vanderbilt findings indicate “pre-K is a waste of time” and asked if he is giving “any thought to redirecting that money” to other education programs.

After the meeting concluded, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters he’s always favored freezing the pre-K program where it is and not expanding it to more 4-year-old across the state but that he now favors scaling it back over time.

“I’ll leave it up to the governor: he’ll have to propose it. There’ll probably be bills in the Legislature to pull back,” Ramsey said. “Do I think we should pull back? We probably should start systematically pulling back on that. Education is a limited pot of money, a finite pot and any dollar you put into pre-K is a dollar you took away from K-12 education. I would like see it begin, absolutely. I don’t know what the amount would be.”

In response to Niceley, the governor said he expects lawmakers to discuss prekindergarten in light of the study.

“The results are not just a Tennessee discussion; it’s being held all across the country. The people who are very strong for pre-K say it’s a quality issue, (that) the reason you’re not seeing any long-standing change is because it’s not the right quality of program,” Haslam said.

Study finds pre-k brings academic gains that fade later

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he’s still supportive of Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program despite a study that shows academic gains made by some of the children enrolled fade in early elementary grades.

The five-year study, a coordinated effort between Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development and the Tennessee Department of Education, found that children in the state program made greater gains on a range of early achievement measures than comparable peers who did not attend pre-K.

However, by the end of kindergarten, the study found that children who were not in the program had caught up and there were no longer significant differences between the two groups. By second grade, the academic performance of both groups of children had flattened out and began to lag below national norms, according to the study. The latest round of results shows that this trend has continued through the third grade.

“We’re pretty stunned looking at these data and have a lot of questions about what might be going on in the later grades that doesn’t seem to be maintaining, if not accelerating, the positive gains the … attendees made in pre-K,” said Mark Lipsey, director of the Peabody Research Institute, and a professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Peabody.
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Bill by legislature’s GOP chairmen criticized as ‘setup’ to kill fed-funded pre-kindergarten

The House and Senate Republican chairmen are pushing a bill declaring that — if and when a court finds there is discrimination in federal funding for prekindergarten programs in Nashville and Memphis to the exclusion of other areas of Tennessee — those programs will terminate.

The bill (HB159) follows approval last year of $70 million in federal funding for expansion of programs in Davidson and Shelby counties, allowing enrollment of students that would not be covered by the state’s limited pre-K program.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin won approval of the measure at the final meeting of the House Local Government Subcommittee meeting last week. Casada said he is fearful that, because the federal funding applies only in two counties, a judge will sometime decide that the state should match that funding for pre-K in other counties and order a statewide pre-K expansion.

If that happens, the bill declares the state will stop distributing the money to Davidson and Shelby counties — under the present law, the state accepts the federal funding, then distributes it back to the two counties — to avoid any statewide expansion of pre-K with state tax dollars.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said the measure amounts to a “setup to kill pre-K.” Passage, he said, will virtually assure a lawsuit is filed by people opposing pre-K programs generally — no such lawsuit has been filed now — and that voiding of the federal funding for Memphis and Nashville will follow.

Some Republicans also voiced misgivings about the proposal, including subcommittee Chairman Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna. But they went along with approval in the subcommittee after Casada argued the bill was “misunderstood” and can be clarified with further discussion in full committee, perhaps with an amendment.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, who hasn’t put it up for a vote yet.

Casada revising ‘misunderstood’ bill on pre-k funds

State Rep. Glen Casada, R- Franklin, says he will rewrite a bill that has been seen as potentially blocking distribution of federal funding to pre-kindergarten programs in Nashville and Memphis– and perhaps other funds as well.

From The Tennessean:

Casada removed House Bill 159 from a Local Government Subcommittee hearing Wednesday because he said the bill’s intent has been misunderstood. He plans to bring the proposal back in a number of weeks.

“I will talk with an attorney and present it so it is understood,” he said on Wednesday.

The bill was drafted to address federal pre-kindergarten money, which was recently awarded to Shelby and Metro school districts. Many districts statewide felt slighted when Gov. Bill Haslam applied for $70 million in federal money for pre-K programs.

Casada’s fear is that because of a perceived slight, a local government could sue for federal money and a judge could mandate the money be given to all. A lawsuit could then require the state to expand a federal program, Casada said, which he sees as a costly endeavor for Tennessee.

The bill says a lawsuit over the federal money will stop the flow of that money. A local government then couldn’t resubmit the application on behalf of all local governments.

But the legislation could also have potentially sweeping affects on federal grant money for local governments, not just pre-K dollars. Casada said that was never the intent.

“Many are under the impression this affects routine grant money,” he said.

The bill has drawn fire from those running pre-K programs, with Metro Schools speaking out against the bill on Tuesday. Metro Schools will see $33 million from the grant.

Memphis, Nashville get $35M each in federal funding for pre-k expansion

Tennessee is one of 18 states that will split $226 million in federal funds for pre-K expansion, reports the Commercial Appeal. An additional $330 million in private donations will be announced at a White House Summit on Early Education Wednesday.

Last October, Tennessee applied for $70 million in a joint application that would fund additional classrooms in Memphis and Nashville. The award means up to $35 million over four years will flow to Shelby County where it will be used in classrooms managed by Shelby County Schools, Bartlett and Millington municipal systems, the Achievement School District and private preschools.

Metro Nashville Public Schools will receive an equal amount.

“I’m thrilled. This was a team effort, and I couldn’t be prouder of our community,” said Barbara Prescott, head of education efforts with PeopleFirst here and a longtime advocate for pre-K in Memphis where in three years, voters twice defeated tax referendums to fund universal prekindergarten.

The funding will allow school districts and high-quality community providers to add 1,000 new seats, starting with 660 next fall. Currently, state and federal sources provide 4,422 children in Shelby County with pre-K.

The grant will also add health screening and parenting programs in 32 other classrooms. With the investment, 100 percent of state-funded classrooms in the county will meet the definition of high-quality programs.

…Tennessee is one of 13 states receiving funds to expand programs. The others are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York and Virginia. Five other states that serve fewer than 10 percent of 4-year-olds received funding to develop programs. They are: Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Montana and Nevada.

A total of 36 states applied. The awards were announced by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan late Tuesday.

“In 2014, the U.S. ranked 28th among industrialized nations in preschool access,” he said. “That is not a badge of honor. As a nation, we should be ashamed.”

Commission on Children and Youth calls for expanding pre-k, Medicaid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – A recent report from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth says the state needs to invest more in early childhood education.

The study released this week recommends expanding the state’s voluntary pre-K program to all at-risk Tennessee children.

The program has not been expanded since 2008. Established in 1999, the program has 935 classrooms serving about 18,500 children.

The commission says research shows pre-K programs help children develop the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn.

The report also urges Gov. Bill Haslam to expand Medicaid in Tennessee so that children can receive health care. According to the commission, about 80,000 children are eligible for TennCare – the state’s Medicaid program – but aren’t covered.

Child care advocates believe they would receive coverage if the expansion occurs.

Fitzhugh: Sending pre-k expansion money to just Nashville and Memphis could bring lawsuit

The leading Democrat in the state House of Representatives believes Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration missed an opportunity with its recent application for federal early education funding and may have opened up the state to a lawsuit, reports The Tenenseean.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said he’s happy Nashville and Shelby County stand to gain nearly $70 million in federal grant money to expand their prekindergarten programming. but every district in the state should have been allowed to make their own request.

He thinks previous legal challenges to the state’s education funding system and the state constitution show that, regardless of the source of the money, funding for each district needs to be equal.

“No matter what source, it seems to me you put $70 million in the pre-K school program for two counties, you’re probably going to have to put some like amount or some reasonable amount for the other 93 counties. And you don’t have the luxury of federal funds,” Fitzhugh said Friday afternoon.

“That’s a big budgetary issue.”

Last week the state Department of Education announced it submitted an application for federal grant money on behalf of Metro Nashville Public Schools and Shelby County Schools. The state says it is serving as a pass-through for the two districts. If awarded the funds, Nashville plans to add 400 seats in 2015 and Shelby County plans to add 1,000 seats by 2018.

“That’s a different deal than the state making a statewide commitment of general fund dollars to pre-K,” Haslam said Friday morning.

Fitzhugh and other Democrats are frequent opponents of Haslam and other Republicans who do not want to use additional state funding to expand pre-K throughout the state. While many Democrats support universal pre-K, the Republican-controlled legislature has repeatedly sided against the state funding any expansion. Fitzhugh said he did applaud the administration’s announcement in September that it would apply for Preschool Development Grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

The governor has routinely said he wants to await results from an ongoing Vanderbilt University study that is tracking the progress of pre-K students through high school before he decides whether to propose expanding the state’s pre-K program, which has not expanded grown substantially since 2005.

Though that study won’t be finished until 2019, Haslam said a decision would likely come before then. Still, he said he’s not considering expanding pre-K funding for the next state budget and that a decision would be “at least a year away.”

Haslam might consider restructuring gas tax, expanding pre-k in 2nd term

After a first term avoiding talk about politically sensitive issues like whether he would push to expand pre-K or restructure the gas tax, Gov. Bill Haslam says he might actually do something in those areas in the next year or so, reports Andrea Zelinski.

The governor told reporters Friday afternoon he expects to evaluate transportation funding in the next year after telling Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Chamber of Commerce leaders that states will have to work on transportation funding issues while waiting for the federal government to make a move.

“I think Tennessee is going to have to — sometime in the next I-don’t-know-how-many-years — sometime next year look at highway funding. We have some serious challenges facing us,” Haslam told reporters.

Haslam said he would also consider whether to expand the state’s pre-K program ahead of his original timeline tied to the conclusion of a Vanderbilt University study on the effectiveness of the state’s current pre-K program. Haslam said he may be ready to confront that issue about a year from now at the earliest, saying he wouldn’t build an expansion into this year’s budget.

Vanderbilt’s study was originally scheduled to conclude in 2015, but was extended to 2019.

“It’s fair to say that’s too long. We’re not going to wait until 2019 to make a decision on that,” said Haslam. “For us, I think it’s driven not so much when it will be completely finished but this: When do we think we’ll know enough to make a priority decision?

“The issue with pre-K is like everything else. It’s like, should we do pre-K? Might be a good idea. Should we pay teachers more? Might be a good idea. I can keep going with that list. It’s more a question of, given the reality of a limited budget, which we have and are always going to have, should that be a priority for funding?”

Haslam goes for fed funding of pre-k expansion in Nashville, Shelby County only

Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is seeking nearly $70 million in federal funding to expand pre-kindergarten programs in Nashville and Shelby County schools, but not for school systems elsewhere in the state.

From The Tennessean’s report:

If awarded the full amount requested, Metro Nashville Public Schools plans to add 1,600 pre-K seats by 2018. The Shelby County Consortium would add 3,580 seats over the same time period. With matching local public and private funding, there will be $109 million committed to opening 2,230 new preschool programs and improving a total of nearly 3,000 existing seats, according to the grant application.

The Tennessee Department of Education aims to act as a pass-through agency for Metro Schools and the Shelby County Consortium, which includes Shelby County Schools, Millington, Bartlett and the Achievement School District. Only state departments could apply for any of the $250 million available from Preschool Development Grant funding, provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

In September, Haslam’s administration notified the federal department that it planned to apply for funds. Haslam spokesman Dave Smith also emphasized at the time the application did not mean the governor had changed his mind about the state’s role in funding pre-K expansion efforts. State Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier echoed those comments Thursday.

“This does not represent any kind of a policy change for this administration,” Gauthier said.

“We’re excited to support these two communities in expanding their own pre-K programs, but this doesn’t represent a change for the state overall in expanding their pre-K.”

President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have pushed states to expand their pre-K programming, but Tennessee still funds pre-K programs at levels from 2005 that do not meet the demands of local communities. Democrats champion universal pre-K, while Haslam and fellow Republicans question its efficacy or need.

…Haslam and the administration say they won’t re-examine funding levels until a Vanderbilt University study is complete. After starting the study in 2009, the university recently received funding to expand its research; it expects to complete the study in 2019.

…More than half of Nashville’s 9,349 4-year-olds are not in pre-K programs, while Shelby County would need 10,000 additional seats to serve all of its local 4-year-olds.

Metro Schools committed millions of its own money in 2013 to expand pre-K programming and received additional funding from the Metro Council for the program. Bass said the federal funding would help with expansions, but it’s not clear if the funding would completely meet the anticipated future costs of expansion.

“There is certainly going to be a need for more pre-K, and there’s going to be a need to pay for it,” Bass said.

The U.S. Department of Education will announce who receives the federal funding by the end of the year.