Governor Phil Bredesen and the Tennessee Department of Education Thursday announced $20 million in new pre-K grants to open 227 new classrooms under the Governor's Voluntary Pre-K for All program.
Ninety-six school systems across the state including DeKalb County will receive funds to open a new classroom for the 2006-2007 school year, providing access to pre-K for 5,000 additional four-year-olds in Tennessee.
Clay Farler, Director of the DeKalb County Pre-K program and Attendance Supervisor, says state funds will be allocated to create a new Pre-K classroom at Smithville Elementary School. With the addition of the new class, DeKalb County will have a total of four Pre-K classrooms, including three at Smithville Elementary School and one at DeKalb West School.
Farler says eligible children must be four years of age by September 30th, and their parents must meet the federal income guidelines.
Each Pre-K class may have up to twenty students. At least sixteen students per class must be enrolled by September 30th in order for the school system to retain available funds for the program.
Bredesen requested that the General Assembly appropriate an additional $20 million in this year's budget for pre-K in Tennessee, increasing total funding for the program to $55 million. With the grant awards announced Thursday, Tennessee's voluntary pre-K program now extends to 88 of the state's 95 counties.
\"I'm extremely pleased that every school system that has applied for pre-K funds has received enough to fund at least one classroom, and I want to thank the leaders of these school systems and their communities for embracing the opportunity to partner in an extraordinary program,\" Bredesen said. \"I especially want to recognize the teachers, who are responsible for maintaining the high quality of Tennessee's pre-K experience.\"
Tennessee has been recognized nationally as having among the highest standards for its pre-K program. In a ceremony in Washington D.C. Thursday, the Tennessee Alliance for Early Education was awarded the \"2006 Pre-K Champion Award\" by the national advocacy group Pre-K Now. Tennessee was one of only four states to receive such recognition.
In June, Education Commissioner Lana Seivers and Office of Early Learning Executive Director Bobbi Lussier addressed state leaders at a national conference where Tennessee's pre-K program was highlighted as a model for other states.
\"Not too long ago, pre-K was not on the public radar in this state,\" Seivers said. \"Today, we are celebrating the breakneck expansion of pre-K classrooms and Tennesseans are aware of the benefits of pre-K because Governor Bredesen has made early childhood education and the future of Tennessee's children a priority.\"
State funding for pre-K has been increased to more than five times the funding level of 2003. When school resumes, funding from excess lottery prize money and increases in state funding will have allowed 527 new pre-K classrooms to open statewide in the past two years.
Governor Bredesen also recognized United Way Thursday for rising to his challenge to help support local pre-K classrooms by securing financial commitments to provide matching funds.
\"In February, I challenged the leadership of United Way to support pre-K by raising the local match for 40 classrooms, and they have moved quickly to exceed that goal, securing financial commitments for 47 new pre-K classrooms,\" said Bredesen. \"This represents a $1.5 million commitment over three years. Public-private partnerships have always been an essential part of our voluntary pre-K program, and I want to express my appreciation to United Way for stepping up to support something so fundamentally important to the education of our children.\"
The Governor encouraged local school systems and pre-K councils to engage the leadership of their local United Way to learn more about funding match opportunities and form relationships centered on the best way for each community to grow the number of pre-K classrooms and meet the needs of parents who want to give their children access to pre-K.