Tag Archives: pre-kindergarten

Ramsey: Pre-K is ‘a liberal, feel-good program that’s not working’

While Gov. Bill Haslam is keeping the door open to an expansion of the public prekindergarten program in Tennessee, any such move would remain a tough sell among some fellow Republicans in the Legislature, observes the Chattanooga TFP.

Haslam stressed that a federal notice that Tennessee intends to apply for a share of federal money available for pre-K expansion doesn’t mean the state will necessarily follow through. The governor said this week he still is awaiting the results of a multiyear Vanderbilt study on the effectiveness of the program before making up his mind.

…Should Haslam ultimately decide to pursue more money for pre-K, he will have to persuade Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, a long-time critic of the program for 4-year-olds. Ramsey called it “a liberal, feel-good program that’s not working.”
Ramsey acknowledged that the federal program would not involve state money, but questioned any expansion beyond children from low-income households.

“Any dime that we spend on that is a dime that comes away from K-12,” he said.

Tennessee spends about $86.5 million per year on the program, funding 935 pre-K classrooms around the state with an enrollment of more than 18,000 children.

Early results from the Vanderbilt study tracking pre-K students’ performance over time found greater academic gains than their peers who didn’t attend…. (T)he next set of the Vanderbilt results from the study won’t be ready for a year from now. So it’s unclear how the study began in 2009 could influence a final decision on applying for the federal money by the Oct. 14 deadline.

The pre-K program was begun in 1998 as a $10 million pilot project for about 150 classrooms under then-Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican. Under his Democratic successor, Phil Bredesen, the program was expanded by nearly 800 classrooms.

Bredesen had called for making pre-K available to any family that chooses to enroll their child, but those plans were put on hold because of the Great Recession, and Haslam hasn’t made significant changes in his first term despite its widespread popularity.

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.

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.

President pitches pre-k expansion in Nashville visit (and link to transcript)

President Barack Obama pushed his plan for expanding early childhood education during his visit to McGavock High School this afternoon and praised Nashville and Tennessee for the educational gains both have made, according to The Tennessean.

“I wanted to come here today because I heard great things about this high school and all of you,” Obama said to a boisterous crowd in the school’s auditorium.

“If Nashville can bring schools, teachers, business and parents together for the sake of our young people, then other places can,” Obama added.

Nashville was the president’s final stop in a two-day, post-State of the Union tour of the nation. Earlier Thursday, he visited General Electric’s Waukesha Gas Engines plant near Milwaukee, Wis., and on Wednesday toured a steel mill near Pittsburgh and a Costco in Maryland.

Air Force One touched down at Berry Field at 3:41 p.m. and a presidential motorcade whisked the president to McGavock. He met briefly with former Vice President Al Gore and the family of Kevin Barbee, a 15-year-old student who was killed earlier this week.

Obama entered the McGavock High School auditorium to a loud ovation at 4:49 p.m. after the school’s student body president, Ronald Elliott, introduced him.

Obama recognized Elliott, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Democratic U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen and Gore. He then mentioned the student struck down on Tuesday night.

“I also recognize the past couple of days have been hard. Some of you have lost a good friend,” Obama said. “It has been heartbreaking.”

He said he and the First Lady are praying for the community.

…Tennessee and McGavock were selected for today’s speech in part because of the education reform efforts underway here.

Tennessee was the first state to win Obama’s Race to the Top competition in 2010. And McGavock is among the top schools in the state for student growth and has combined college-preparatory courses with work- and project-based learning.

Obama said the nation must guarantee “every young person access to a world-class education.”

He said there have been successes, citing rising graduation rates and declining dropout rates. He specifically praised Tennessee and Nashville for the efforts underway here. That includes proposals for expanding pre-K in Metro schools.

“You have made huge strides in helping young people learn the skills they need for a new economy,” Obama said.

Note: The transcript of the presidential speech in Nashville is HERE.

Memphis voters reject sales tax increase

The Memphis sales-tax referendum failed Thursday by an overwhelming margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, or 17,636 votes to 11,659, in the evening’s final unofficial tally as reported by the Commercial Appeal.

Only 7 percent of the city’s 417,174 registered voters participated.

The result represents a victory for skeptics of the plan to raise the sales tax to expand preschool training and help reduce the property tax.

“Apparently, if the numbers hold, The margin indicates that the will of the people is that they didn’t want to pay more sales tax for a partial Pre-K program, and I’m delighted by that,” said one of the main opponents of the tax, former school board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr.

Whalum and others spoke out against the concept, but didn’t organize campaign committees.

By contrast, proponents built a committee that raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. “The promises that they were making did not line up with the content of the referendum itself. … It feels good to be David defeating Goliath,” Whalum said

Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, who helped initiate the sales tax referendum, had few words Thursday night.

“We lost. Who won?” he said by phone, then paused for several seconds. “That’s all I can say.”

Gov Still ‘Wait and See’ on Pre-K Expansion

Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday reiterated his determination to keep funding pre-kindergarten programs in Tennessee at current levels but remained mum about any future plans for expansion, according to TNReport.

Speaking to reporters in Jackson, Haslam commented on recent preliminary results from a study by Vanderbilt University comparing the performance of students exposed to pre-k programs and those who are not. The study is ongoing, but the report released last week shows mixed results, especially relating to how long benefits of pre-k education last.

“The results they just reported were a little discouraging in terms of the amount of gain that those pre-k students held on to,” Haslam said Tuesday. “But,” he continued, “we think there are other things to measure and our commitment is to keep funding at its current level until we see another year of two of the study and then we’ll decide from there.”

…Some critics of pre-k spending including Knoxville Republican state Rep. Bill Dunn have already jumped on the report in recent days. In a statement earlier this week, Dunn dismissed pre-k programs as “very expensive hype.”

For his part, Haslam brushed past any mention of possible political snags, saying Tuesday that his administration would wait at least another year for final results of the study before making any decisions about pursuing the federal expansion dollars.

Bill Dunn: Pre-K is like paying $1,000 for a McDonald’s Burger

News release from state Rep. Bill Dunn:
(NASHVILLE) — Last week, researchers at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University released findings of their 2013 pre-kindergarten study – a research effort dedicated to detailing the effects of pre-kindergarten on the long-term academic success of Tennessee students.

The findings show that by the end of kindergarten “the differences between participants and non-participants were no longer statistically significant”, except in one case where the children who did not attend Pre-K actually outperformed those who did. (Note: Tennessean story on the report is HERE.)

“Tennesseans were told that Pre-K would increase graduation rates and even prevent 80 murders and 6,400 aggravated assaults each year,” said State Representative Bill Dunn (R–Knoxville), citing Pre-K advocate literature. “I truly hope people will recognize this was all very expensive hype.”

According to estimates, the total cost of implementing a full-scale Pre-K program in Tennessee would exceed $460 million per year.

“If you do a cost-benefit analysis on this extremely expensive program, you will come to the conclusion that it is like paying $1,000 for a McDonald’s hamburger,” Dunn continued. “It may make an initial dent on your hunger, but it doesn’t last long and you soon realize you could have done a lot more with the money spent.”

Instead, Dunn called for shifting resources to places that have shown to have a real impact on students, like having a great teacher in front of every classroom.

“Our teachers have stepped up with the new educational reforms that have been initiated and have shown improvement on annual test scores for three years in a row. For all of this hard work, I think they should be rewarded,” concluded Dunn.

Bill Dunn serves as Chairman of the House Calendar & Rules Committee. He lives in Knoxville and represents District 16, which includes a portion of Knox County.

Democrats Talk Pre-K Expansion; Huffman Not Interested

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.”

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Haslam: Pre-K Expansion, Vouchers Not Linked

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam is weighing both an increase in funding for the state’s public pre-kindergarten program and creating a school voucher system in Tennessee, though the Republican says he doesn’t consider the two proposals linked.
The governor told The Associated Press after a recent groundbreaking outside Nashville that while both measures face heavy opposition among various factions of lawmakers, he doesn’t see one as providing political cover for the other.
“Those are two good examples of something where people on both sides can point to studies that show they’re either effective or not,” Haslam said. “Our job is to wade into the middle of that and see if it works for Tennessee.
“But I don’t think they’re coupled at all.”

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Governor Eyes Expansion of Pre-K Program

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam is considering a funding boost for the state’s public pre-kindergarten program, a move that would put him at odds with some fellow Republicans in the Legislature.
The governor told The Associated Press in an interview this week that Tennessee’s improving revenue picture could allow the state to resume pre-K expansion.
“You’ll see us between now and when we propose next year’s budget making a decision on if it’s time to fund pre-K in a bigger way,” Haslam said. “I’m hoping that some encouraging revenue will give us a chance to look at some new things to fund that we haven’t been before, not just pre-K but also some other things.”
The pre-K program was begun as a $10 million pilot project for about 150 classrooms under Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in 1998. Under his Democratic successor, Phil Bredesen, the program was expanded by nearly 800 classrooms statewide to serve more than 18,000 children at an annual cost of about $85 million.

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