Pre-K Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about Pre-K in Tennessee? Find answers to the most common questions below. If you can't find what you're looking for, contact us.

Tennessee's Voluntary Pre-K

First priority for enrollment is all children who meet free or reduced price lunch income guidelines and are four years old by Aug. 15. If space is available after enrolling children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, the program may enroll children who have disabilities, are English Language Learners, are in state custody, or who are at risk as defined by U.S.C. § 1400 et sec. , regardless of income. If space is still available after the first 20 days of the new school year, the school district can submit a request to the Office of Early Learning to enroll all other children at that time.

Head Start

Head Start is a federal program for preschool children from low-income families, according to the poverty guidelines published by the federal government. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of age-appropriate educational activities, receive medical and dental care, have healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy playing indoors and outdoors in a safe setting. A minimum of ten percent (10%) of enrollment opportunities are offered to children with disabilities. Children in state custody or are homeless are given enrollment priority.

Title I Pre-K

Title I pre-K programs generally serve Title I designated schools and can serve any preschooler in the specific school zone, regardless of income. Check with your local school system for entrance requirements.

Community Child Care and Preschools

There are many different requirements for entrance into child care and preschool programs, depending upon the program. Contact your area Child Care Resource and Referral Center for more information.

Special Education

Children who are determined to have disabilities under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are eligible for services from birth through age 21. Preschool children, generally children aged three through five, are eligible to receive a free appropriate public education on their third birthday. Services for children with disabilities are individually determined based on the needs of each child.

Children with disabilities, who otherwise meet the entrance requirements for any preschool program, can be considered for enrollment but do not receive preference in the enrollment process. Federal law requires children with disabilities to comprise at least ten percent (10%) of total enrollment in Head Start.

Children with disabilities must meet entrance requirements for any program considered. An IEP cannot necessarily guarantee a placement into a particular program. Programs may be full or have entrance requirements which have to be met. IEP teams should work with pre-K representatives to discuss appropriate placement opportunities for children to receive special education services that may be appropriate for a particular child. A representative from that program may be included in the development of the IEP by providing information or by attending the meeting. It is important that programs and agencies work together to ensure appropriate placements for all preschool children.

Title I Pre-K programs generally serve Title I designated schools, and can serve any preschooler in the specific school zone, regardless of income.

If a child is kindergarten age, then kindergarten must be the first consideration for placement for any children. Many children who may not seem ready for kindergarten do very well there. Children who are kindergarten age are not eligible for Title I Pre-K, Voluntary Pre-K, or Head Start, unless the child has an IEP that supports continued preschool placement.

TN Voluntary Pre-K (VPK)

VPK enrollment is limited at this time due to funding. Because statute requires a minimum of 5.5 hours a day five days a week, funding is provided accordingly. Full-time enrollment is required for entry into this program because it was not designed to be a drop-in or part-time program. All children are enrolled on a full time basis only. Participation in VPK is voluntary and parents may withdraw their child at any time. Excessive unexcused absences could result in dismissal from the program. Attendance policy guidance can be found here.

Head Start

Every Head Start Center strives for enrollment of children on a full time basis which is based on the hours of operation of the program. Excessive unexcused absences could result in dismissal from the program.

Community Child Care

Each child care program is required to take attendance. Each child care center establishes its own attendance criteria. Community child care centers housing a VPK classroom must comply with the attendance guidelines found in the VPK scope of services.

Special Education

An IEP identifies the services, the length of time, and where a child will receive these services.

The Tennessee VPK program is required by state statue to operate five days a week with a minimum 5.5 hours day. Children are expected to attend every day. A child with disabilities can be enrolled full time in the VPK classroom and receive special education services on a part-time basis.

All children must meet entrance requirements, even if they have siblings in certain programs. Check with your local program to determine eligibility for your child.

All Tennessee VPK and Head Start programs provide learning environments that support development of the whole child across all developmental domains. These standards are listed in the Tennessee's Early Learning Developmental Standards.These standards describe age appropriate developmental skills for children birth to age 5. Head Start also follows the Head Start National Performance Standards. Children with disabilities have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) which are developed to meet their unique needs, and are based on the early learning developmental standards.

Tennessee's VPK and Head Start programs choose a curriculum from a list of approved curricula that are research based, reliable, age-appropriate and aligned with the TN Early Learning Developmental Standards. The most recent revision to this list was made in 2018. Read the current list of approved curricula for the TN VPK. Other programs may make those decisions at the local level.

This is a decision made at the local level. Transportation is provided by some programs but not all. In the case of a child with a disability, transportation may be provided as a related service. IEP teams make this determination, depending on the individual needs of the child.

Children in Tennessee can spend no more than 90 minutes on a bus either to school or on the return trip home. Children with disabilities should spend time on a bus that is comparable to non-disabled peers.

Some programs may reimburse parents for transporting children or for arranging for others to transport their children. Check with your local programs for more information.

First talk to the child’s teacher. Remember, young children learn many different skills at different times. If the issue is not resolved, schedule a conference with the building-level administrator, which might include the pre-K teacher and/or supervisor. If concerns persist, a referral to your local school for an evaluation of your child may be recommended. Call your local elementary school or the special education department in the school system in which you live to make a referral.

Behaviors that are interfering with a child’s learning or the learning of others need to be addressed. There are many ways to support children who have difficult behavior. Individual programs may have specific rules to address this issue. The preschool program and the family should work together to collect data to identify the cause of the behavior, and to develop a plan for changing the behavior. Behavior plans should be developed on the principals of research based positive behavioral supports, with an understanding that negative behaviors must be replaced by appropriate positive behaviors. It is important to teach appropriate positive behaviors and to reinforce and reward the child for using those behaviors. Positive supports and consequences are determined on an individual basis. It is important for everyone to follow the agreed upon plan consistently for a period of time before evaluating the effectiveness of the plan, usually for two to three weeks. Children’s behaviors usually get worse instead of better right after a plan is put into place, as the child is often trying to “test” or get around the plan. Under certain circumstances the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and the implementation of a behavior intervention plan (BIP). Any preschool child with a disability and an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that addresses behavior must have that plan followed.

Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K

Participation in the TN VPK program is voluntary. Parents can withdraw their child at any time. The TN VPK programs cannot dismiss a child due to inappropriate behavior without submitting documentation of the attempted behavioral interventions to the Tennessee Department of Education's office of early learning. Children with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) being served by the TN VPK may not be dismissed; however, the IEP team may convene to discuss a change to provide a more appropriate program or services.

Head Start

Parents may withdraw a Head Start child at any time. Local programs may only dismiss children under dire circumstances which are documented and monitored.

Special Education

Participation in special education services is voluntary, parents may withdraw their children at any time. School systems may not dismiss children but an IEP team can convene to discuss a change to provide a more appropriate program or services. Any suspensions or expulsions of preschool children with disabilities in special education programs must follow IDEA regulations.

Although local programs may have entrance requirements suggesting that children must be potty trained to be enrolled in a program, children may not be denied enrollment if they are not potty trained due to a disability. Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program does not require children to be potty trained prior to entrance. It is important for all involved to work together to provide an appropriate area that provides privacy for the child being changed and to maintain appropriate adult child ratios during the diapering process. Staff should be trained regarding Universal Precautions to protect them and the child from infection and disease associated with improper changing and disposal of diapers.