The Voluntary Pre-K initiative provides Tennessee's three- and four-year-old children—with an emphasis on 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.
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. Currently, over $85,0000,00 from the state education budget was allocated to school districts to operate 935 classrooms, which is serving 18,000 four year olds across the state.
In 2016, the state legislature passed S.B. 1899 (H.B. 1485.) This bill, referred to as the Pre-K Quality Act, requires the following:
- Competitive grant based on quality
- Pre-K and kindergarten student growth portfolios
- Legislative intent added that VPK prepare students for kindergarten
- Alignment between pre-K and K-12 instruction
- Office of Early Learning will develop definition of quality with which programs will comply
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 four 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 some 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, oversees the application process, consults with local districts and schools as needed.