Voluntary Pre-K

Competitive grant applications for 2017-18 school year have been reviewed. A list of districts and their preliminary allocations can be found here. 

The Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Initiative provides Tennessee's four-year-old children, with the first priority to those four-year-olds who are at-risk, an opportunity to develop school readiness skills (pre-academic and social skills). 

Voluntary Pre-K classes promote a high quality academic environment, which fosters the love and joy of learning and promotes success in kindergarten and throughout the child's life. 

History of Voluntary Pre-K

The legislation for the Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) for Tennessee act of 2005 was passed by both the House and the Senate in May of 2005. This law provided for the use of $25 million in excess lottery dollars in the 2005-06 school year to establish quality pre-kindergarten classrooms through a competitive grant process. In subsequent years (2006-07 and 2007-08) Governor Bredesen's approved budget included additional State funding to expand Tennessee's VPK program classes to reach an ever growing number of at-risk pre-k children. Today, in 2013-2014, over $85,0000,00.00 from the state education budget is allocated to school districts to operate 935 classrooms serving over 18,000 four-year-olds each year.

Basic Principles


Parents, communities and school districts can decide locally whether they want and need high quality Pre-K classrooms.

Working for Access For All

Pre-K in Tennessee is accessible to all 4-year olds, with an emphasis on at-risk students and high priority communities.

Maintain Existing High Standards

Keep the high quality standards already in place regarding small class size, curriculum requirements and certified teachers.

Applying to Match State Dollars

The local school district serves as the applicant for matching state funds. Local school districts are accountable for matching state dollars based on their BEP formula state/local match requirement. Local school districts have the ability to use federal funds, private dollars or in-kind resources as part of their local match.

Flexible Local Partnerships

Communities, through their local school districts, have the ability to contract and partner with non-school providers, i.e., non–profit, for–profit and local Head Start programs.

Community Coordination and Planning

Each school district creates and facilitates a community “Pre-K Advisory Council” which provides formal input into the application and plan to expand pre-K classrooms. Representation must include, but is not be limited to, parents, teachers, non-school providers, Head Start, the business community and local government leaders.

Office of Early Learning

A strong, centralized office monitors the programs for accountability; oversee the application process; consult with local

2013-14 Facts

The Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Act of 2005 was passed with strong bipartisan support from the Tennessee General Assembly, increasing the state’s investment in Early Childhood Education and access for students.

  • FY ’14 Funding: $86,552,900 million ($85,807,268 flow through to LEAs / $745,652 Admin)
  • Number of Classes: 935 State-Funded Pre-K Classes
  • Enrollment: 18,000+ Children Enrolled
  • Location: All 95 TN Counties
  • LEAs Served: 135 TN School Systems *135/136 LEAs pre-K eligible
  • Growth of Pre-K from 2004 to 2014:
  • School Year # Pre-K Classrooms # Students Served
    2013-14 935 18,000 + (final number in June ’14)
    2012-13 935 18,621
    2011-12 934 18,609
    2010-11 934 18,453
    2009-10 934 18,370
    2008-09 934 18,364
    2007-08 934 18,133
    2006-07 677 13,197
    2005-06 448 9,000
    2004-05 (Pilot pre-K) 148 3,000
  • The Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K (TN VPK) program is recognized as a national leader in pre-K quality, achieving 9 out of 10 quality standard benchmarks of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), only 4 states achieved 10 quality standard benchmarks in 2012.
  • TN VPK program is ranked 19th in terms of access to program for four year olds while ranking 13th in terms of state funding (NIEER 2012)
  • Tennessee is one of 5 states in the nation to receive a grant in 2008 to partner with the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL) to build the capacity of the state to increase the social and behavioral competence of young children. This work continues today in 2013.
  • Collaborative classroom partnerships are an integral component of the TN VPK program. Currently there are over 200 collaborative classroom partnerships between 40 local school systems and non-profit and for profit providers such as; Head Start , For-Profit and Not-For-Profit Child Care Providers, Faith Based Agencies, Community Based Agencies, and Higher Education Institutions.
  • United Way of Tennessee provides local matching funds of nearly $1 million for 46 pre-K classrooms throughout the state.
  • Tennessee recognizes the importance of a highly trained staff by requiring a licensed teacher with pre-K certification and recommending a teacher assistant with early childhood experience and either a Certified Development Associate (CDA), or working toward a CDA certification. Fifty-three percent of teacher assistants have a CDA or higher credential in the 2012-13 school year.
  • The TN VPK has one of six full-day programs across the country requiring a minimum instructional day of 5½ hours per day, 5 days per week.
  • The Tennessee Alliance for Early Education (TAEE) continues to provide strong leadership for the advocacy and advancement of early childhood education in Tennessee.
  • The revised TN Early Learning Developmental Standards (TNELDS), for four year-olds, were approved by the state board of education in August 2012.

Download the 2014 Pre-K Fact Sheet